JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The operator of a Youngstown-area injection well for fracking wastewater is challenging the authority of Ohio's oil-and-gas chief to regulate its operations, calling his actions illegal and contrary to science.
American Water Management Services argues in a case before Franklin County Judge Kimberly Cocroft on Tuesday that the official acted unreasonably against its well in Weathersfield Township. The facility was shuttered after at least 20 small seismic events occurred nearby in 2014.
State regulators believe the tremors tapped the same fault as a 4.0 magnitude earthquake in Youngstown in 2011 that prompted a temporary injection moratorium in the area.
American Water Management contends the law doesn't give the chief the right to suspend its permit based on speculation about the possibility of future earthquakes - "not actual and reliable scientific evidence."
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources argues that the chief's role includes protecting the public from the threat of human-induced earthquakes and other public safety hazards.
"Should the chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management have to wait for a damaging earthquake to hit a community before issuing a chief's order suspending operations? Of course not," the state asserts in its brief. That "would lead to an absurd result," attorneys argue.
In its brief, the state says the chief was concerned about earthquakes "continuing to escalate in magnitudes - threatening public health, safety, and the environment." The company's plan for restoring operations would have made the community "an experimental testing area," it says.
The company counters in its brief that the chief's suspension order wasn't based on any violation of its permit, permit conditions or any Ohio law.
It argues that allowing such an action to stand "gives the chief expansive, unlimited, and unbridled implied authority to take any action he desires if he acts in the name of public health and safety" - even if it violates Ohio laws and rules.
The company is appealing a decision of the state Oil and Gas Commission that upheld the chief's order. Cocroft declined to allow the well to reopen while the lawsuit is argued.