Salem council eyes requiring drilling permit

SALEM – City council’s next move regarding oil and gas drilling may include requiring property owners to secure a permit before signing a lease which includes surface rights.

The Rules and Ordinances Committee of city council discussed the issue Tuesday night, with Chairman Councilman Rick Drummond agreeing to approach the city law director to discuss what can and cannot be enforced before they move forward.

No ordinance has been proposed yet, with the idea just in the discussion phase at this point. Last week, council rejected a proposed ordinance to restrict oil and gas surface drilling to properties in M-2 zoning districts.

Councilwoman Cyndi Baronzzi Dickey reiterated what had already been stated numerous times, that only the state of Ohio holds the power to decide if drilling can take place on a property. She pointed out, though, that the only way the state becomes involved is if there’s a lease in place for surface rights and a company wants to exercise those rights and apply for a drilling permit on the leased land.

She suggested an ordinance which says a property owner may not sign a lease for surface rights without a permit from the city. They could be required to appear before the city Planning Commission or the city Board of Zoning Appeals, giving neighbors or anyone else who could be affected a chance to make comment.

“I think if we want to do something about drilling, that’s the way to do it,” she said.

She said she wasn’t sure they want to say no one can drill in the city. There may be some areas in the city where it may be okay, where there aren’t homes around.

“I don’t think we should make a flat rule that inhibits industry in our city,” Dickey said.

Fellow committee member Councilman Clyde Brown said he could understand what she was saying, but in his opinion the “whole town should be no drilling.” He said the city officials

should let the people know they’re trying to stop drilling in the city. He said the city can’t just restrict it to one area, as the previously proposed ordinance suggested.

“We can’t let people think they’re protected when they’re not,” he said.

Drummond questioned how to deal with people who may have already signed a lease. Dickey said she understood there may be people in the city who have already signed leases containing surface rights.

Drummond said he was inclined to lean toward the idea of applying for a permit for a lease for surface rights. People would have an opportunity for input.

Councilman Brian Whitehill, who was in the audience, said it can have an effect on economic development. Just having a surface lease signed might impact what land can be used for and whether somebody wants the land for development or not.