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Gregory Brunton Quoted in Columbus Business First Article on Ohio Supreme Court Case

Columbus Business First
December 6, 2013

‘David vs. Goliath’ battle shaping up in Ohio Supreme Court over drilling rights

More than 50 energy companies, trade groups, small cities and mom-and-pop businesses are weighing in on a court case to determine whether Ohio communities have the right to regulate oil and natural gas drilling within their boundaries.

The Ohio Supreme Court has received 34 amicus briefs in Munroe Falls v. Beck Energy Corp. from cities, small businesses and others who think local regulations are a good idea. Nineteen briefs have been filed by oil companies, large business associations and state that want the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to maintain its exclusive authority to regulate drilling under state law.

The case has businesses such as Donkey Coffee in Athens, Mustard Seed Market in Akron and Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy on one side of the debate and theAmerican Petroleum InstituteOhio Chamber of Commerce and Ohio Oil and Gas Association on the other side.

“It’s definitely David vs. Goliath here,” saidOhio Environmental Council Legal Affairs Director Trent Dougherty, who filed briefs for many of those who favor local regulation.

As I’ve reported
, Munroe Falls officials claim Beck Energy did not comply with city ordinances requiring permits for drilling, zoning, and rights-of-way construction. A Summit County Common Pleas Court judge ruled in favor of Munroe Falls last year, but Ohio’s 9th District Court of Appeals overturned most of the lower court decision in February, including the requirement that Beck obtain a drilling permit from Munroe Falls.

With the deadline having passed to file amicus briefs in the case, Dougherty said it is likely the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments by early spring next year. That would set the stage for a decision next summer.

Dougherty said those who favor local regulation have mixed reasons for doing so. Some want to impose more regulations on drilling operations, especially fracking, and others want to defend the zoning authority of cities and villages.

“They’re concerned about what impact (oil and gas development) will have on their business and want to preserve the character of their small communities,” he said, adding some also say they have live with local zoning laws so why shouldn’t oil and gas companies.

Greg Brunton, a lawyer with Reminger Attorneys at Law in Columbus, told me the significance of the issues in Munroe Falls v. Beck is reflected in the large number of amicus briefs filed with the Supreme Court.

A decision in favor of local regulation would create uncertainly for drillers and potential havoc for oil and gas development in Ohio, said Brunton, who represents land owners, pipeline companies and other midstream developers in the Utica shale play.

“It would greatly frustrate a uniform state law,” he said, “and make it uncertain if a (company) can actually drill even if it gets a permit from the state... Now it would be not only statewide regulations to deal with but varying rules locally that may delay or prevent these projects.”

Brunton said it is also telling the Supreme Court wants to weigh in on the issue now instead of waiting to resolve conflicting rulings by state appeals courts as they arise.

“They decided they want to speak on this issue right away,” he said, adding that indicates justices see the issue as having great public importance.