A natural gas well at the Church of New Hope in Stow has been activated.
Pursie E. Pipes Drilling Co. Landsman Bill Marks confirmed that the well at 4415 Darrow Road, which has been horizontally fractured, was completed last week and now is ready to collect gas.
The news came as a surprise to city officials. Stow City Council voted unanimously to withdraw the drilling company's proposed mineral-rights lease from its agenda in August, effectively rejecting the proposal.
PEP, a company headquartered in Mount Vernon, Ill., had offered the city $20,000 plus 1⁄8 royalty to lease the mineral rights tied to land beneath Ritchie Road.
The company said it needed that lease agreement in order to put the well, which was idle at the time, into production.
Councilman Mike Rasor said city officials believed the well would be plugged up after the proposed lease was denied.
However, Law Director Brian Reali said at Monday's council committee meeting that the city had been informed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources -- which oversees all gas and oil drilling independent of local municipalities -- that the company already had all leases necessary to complete the well.
Council originally became involved when PEP said earlier this year that it miscalculated how deep it needed to drill the well in order to reach natural gas.
Because the company needed to drill deeper than originally anticipated, it needed to secure additional leases for mineral rights from surrounding property owners. At the time, Reali said it was believed the city owned those mineral rights.
According to correspondence to the drilling company from PEP's attorney John Barrington, Stow doesn't have a claim to mineral rights under Ritchie Road because ownership of the land beneath the street's surface actually belongs to the property owners whose lots extend to the middle of the road.
Marks referenced Barrington's findings, noting the attorney traced property records back to the mid-1920s when Ritchie Road was known as Housley Road.
According to correspondence, Barrington claims plats from back then show that lots run to the center of the street. He writes that Stow only has a right-of-way to use the surface of the property for street purposes and has no claim to the mineral rights below ground, which belong solely to the property owners.
"If the lot runs to the center of the road, the lot owner owns the fee interest to the center of the road, subject only to the right of the public to use the surface for street purposes," wrote Barrington in a letter to PEP dated Oct. 30.
Steve Opritza, a geologist with ODNR's division of oil and gas resources management, advised the law department that PEP had submitted a title opinion declaring ownership of the minerals below Ritchie Road and leases from all appropriate property owners.
On Thursday, he said PEP had everything in order to legally proceed with the well's operation.
"Upon our review of those items, it is determined that PEP Drilling may proceed with the completion of ... the well and put it into production," wrote Opritza in a message to Reali.
Some Stow citizens and members of the grassroots, anti-fracking group Concerned Citizens Ohio who attended the Nov. 12 meeting of council committees urged the city to do everything in its power to prevent the well from producing gas, citing a variety of concerns with how safety, property values and the environment might be adversely affected as a function of the well's operation.
City officials are awaiting a title opinion from the Stow agency Prescott Revere Land Title to determine if the city might still have a claim to the mineral rights under Ritchie Road.
If the city does have a claim, Rasor has said the well's operation without a lease from the city is tantamount to stealing, and litigation could be possible.
Marks has said PEP has drilled more than 30,000 wells since the 1940s, many of which have operated in Northeastern Ohio on golf courses and church properties. He said his company takes pride in reclamation and making well sites look aesthetically better than when the sites are first prepared.
The well at the Church of New Hope, he said, will be spruced up in the spring with fresh grass, dog-earred fence boards and a screening of evergreen trees.
"We're going to do a nice job," he said.
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