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Columbiana council considers gas lease options

April 4, 2012

COLUMBIANA - An oil and gas lease discussion in the city is getting more detailed as City Council members consider options.

Councilman Bryan Blakeman said he isn't against drilling but is hesitant when it comes to drilling on municipal property-especially when a majority of that property is located around the city's water supply.

The city gets its water from nine wells in six different locations on the south end of town in Fairfield Township. The largest is on Camelot Drive, not far from a planned gas well on Fairfield School Road.

"We are dealing with most of our properties being located around our water supply. That is a real danger," Blakeman said.

Although he noted that in most leases the oil and gas company is responsible for providing potable water if a source becomes contaminated, it would be especially difficult to provide backup water to an entire city.

"We don't have that luxury when we are relying on 6,000 or 7,000 people relying on our water supply. I don't think the timing is right," he said.

In January, Blakeman said he would only support a non-drill lease if revenue from the lease is put toward tapping into another water source as backup should a well become contaminated.

Councilman James King asked whatever became of that suggestion, but the matter wasn't discussed.

Councilman Bob Bieshelt - who adamantly opposes drilling on city property - is concerned drilling contaminants could enter the city's aquifer and spread over five years.

Five years is the rate the contamination would spread through the aquifer, according to the city's drinking water source protection plan prepared by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

City Manager Keith Chamberlin said it is his understanding that more water testing is conducted on municipal property leased for drilling.

"If we talk to (companies) perhaps we could get a 10-year distance from our wells. At this point we can't do that because we don't have a contract with anybody," Council President Lowell Schloneger said.

He has frequently said the city should pursue a non-drill lease to have more control over local drilling.

"I would like at least to see a proposal of what is available and how we could protect ourselves and if we could use some of the land that isn't close to the water supplies," he said.

He suggested council talk to attorney Alan Wenger, of Harrington, Hoppe and Mitchell, and made a motion that council proceed with requesting a proposal to see what is available.

But Blakeman said two proposals should be requested: one for all city-owned land and another that doesn't include any land around city water wells.

Council unanimously approved the amended motion.

Requesting the proposals does not mean the city will be leasing land, Schloneger noted.

King said he would also like to have input from city residents that have leased property for drilling to "see what kind of experiences they've had."

He then asked for a show of hands from the public on whether leasing land would be a good idea. Only four people approved while eight indicated it would be a bad idea. About seven others didn't express their opinion.

Blakeman said if council does decide to lease land they should hold out for a more lucrative offer.

"I believe the money that is on the table is a fraction of the money that would be on the table down the road We are not in a financial situation where we need it. I don't believe it's bad but I don't believe the timing is good," he said.

Chamberlin estimated at least $1.5 to $2 million could be reaped from a lease if land is signed over at $5,000 an acre, which is roughly what Chesapeake Energy has offered to property owners over the last several months.

The Oklahoma-based company is the second-largest producer of natural gas in the country and has secured leases all over the county.

Chamberlin suggested that revenue from a potential lease should go back into the fund of whatever property drilling is conducted on. Cemetery property has not been factored into land considered for drilling.

King said he wouldn't support drilling on cemetery property and didn't believe it would be "popular."

Planning Commission Chairman Richard McBane said at the end of the meeting the city should research the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process to ensure the proper safeguards are in place for the planned replacement of the water treatment plant.

Chesapeake publishes a "broad list" of chemicals they use, he said.

The city is in the midst of finding funding sources for a roughly $14 million project to replace its outdated water treatment plant. The project received congressional backing from U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson in February.



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