Babst Calland: Ohio Oil And Gas Commission Affirms Orders Suspending Operation Of An Injection Well Due To Low-Level Seismic Events

By David E. Northrop

The Ohio Oil and Gas Commission rendered a decision on August 12, 2015, affirming two orders of the Chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management that suspended operation of an injection well operated by American Water Management Services in Trumbull County, Ohio. The orders, issued in September, 2014, were based upon two seismic events near the well that were not felt on the surface and caused no property damage. American Water argued on appeal that the orders exceeded the Chief’s authority to suspend permits in the absence of regulatory violations and were unreasonable given the low magnitude of the events and American Water’s proposal to resume operations under a comprehensive plan to monitor seismic events and cease operations if seismic events occur at specified levels. The Commission rejected those contentions, finding that the Chief has inherent authority to suspend permits to protect public health and safety even where the permit holder has not violated applicable regulatory requirements. The Commission also found that the Chief acted reasonably due to a justifiable concern that the two low-level seismic events may be predictive of larger events that may jeopardize public health and safety.

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