Back in October, County Engineers and officials from ODOT District 11, along with representatives from the Oil and Gas industry, started developing a standardized “Road Use and Maintenance Agreement” or RUMA. The goal was to produce a template agreement to be signed by drillers and local officials that would guarantee the oil and gas companies help in maintaining any roads that might be damaged by the excessive truck traffic related to fracking operations.

From the beginning, the intention was require the RUMA to be signed and in place BEFORE a permit for a new horizontal fracking permit would be issued.

The RUMA is important because it defines responsibility for repairs, in some cases requiring drillers to pay for or perform upgrades to a route that can’t handle the expected traffic. The roads used by drillers are typically small local roads and the cost for maintaining them falls on the locals. While counties get a set percentage of state gas tax collections to pay for road repairs, fracking operations typically require a huge, unplanned increase in truck traffic on rural roads as fracking water and chemicals are shipped to the site, and fracking waste is shipped out for disposal.

Unlike Pennsylvania, which has implemented a state-wide Excess Use Agreement requires bonding at $12,500 per paved mile for the roads they use, Ohio is considered a “Home Rule” state which means locals are responsible for the maintenance of local roads. In Ohio, the Department of Transportation (ODOT) only has jurisdiction over state routes, leaving Township Trustees and County Engineers responsible for the smaller local roads which are typically required to access drilling sites. This also means each county must sign their own RUMA with drillers, further complicating the process.

In early October, all seven County Engineers from ODOT District 11, the Ashland County Engineer and representatives from the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO) the Ohio Township Trustee Association got together for their first planning meeting to discuss development of a model RUMA that could be used as a standard by local governments and oil and gas companies. The result was a draft copy of the model RUMA and the agreement by ODOT that they would “meet with ODNR’s Oil and Gas Division to get the their buy-in for a requirement of a RUMA in place prior to permitting a well utilizing the Horizontal Drilling process.”

The second planning meeting in early November also included representatives from Chesapeake Energy (the largest oil and gas operator in Ohio), Enervest and representatives from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

And the third meeting on December 3rd added Hess Energy, the Ohio Township Association and Representatives from the Governor’s office.

Up until recently, the Governor’s Office was supporting the effort to develop a model road use agreement AND the requirement that a RUMA must be signed BEFORE a new drilling permit could be issued.

But then suddenly, and without warning, the Governor changed his mind.

On the eve of Kasich’s grand State of the State speech in Steubenville, Kasich’s people, along with ODOT and ODNR, called CCAO, the Ohio Township Association, and the County Engineers Association of Ohio to a meeting to discuss progress on the model RUMA.

According a recent newsletter from CCAO, Kasich’s people convened the meeting and, without any warning, “announced that they had changed their position on requiring Oil and Gas developers to enter into a road and use management agreement (RUMA) with local government officials before a drilling permit would be granted.”

CCAAO reports that “a number of stakeholders were surprised when officials said that rather than require a RUMA as a condition to an ODNR permit to drill, ODNR will instead mimic the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) process by only inquiring whether a RUMA is in place or if good faith efforts have been made to negotiate a RUMA. If the answer to either question is yes, the permit will be granted. According to ODNR officials, there will be no discretion from their department as to whether a true “good faith” effort has been made. In other words, the lack of a RUMA will not prevent a permit from being granted by ODNR.

That meeting occurred on February 7th. The newsletter came out on the 17th. And in between (15th), now-ODNR spokesman Carlo Loparo told the Vindicator that ODNR “will consider requiring oil and gas shale drillers to sign road-maintenance agreements with local municipalities before applying for a drilling permit.”

Kasich’s position seems to go from months of yes, suddenly to no, and then back to maybe all in about a week.

Where we stand now is anyone’s guess, but if was a local official, I wouldn’t be planning on any compassion or relief from the Kasich administration. when it comes to priorities, he’s shown time and again that locals are near the bottom the list, and making big corporations – especially oil and gas companies – happy is right at the top.

Kasich came into office promising to move at “the speed of business”, but his constant meddling in issues like this one ultimately ends up causing confusion and delay for everyone. Sometimes Kasich just needs to do himself, and everyone else, a big favor by getting the heck out of the way.