Church leaders drop plan to drill natural gas well

2011-5-30

Stow -- A two-year struggle to get a natural gas well drilled at Stow Community United Church of Christ is apparently over.

Church leaders voted "not to pursue" the gas well anymore, according to church representative Gary Aleman, who spoke to City Council May 26 while trying to get a farmer's market approved at the church this summer.

Mayor Karen Fritschel, who said after the meeting that this was the first she had heard of the church's ruling on the natural gas well, called it "a wise decision."

"I'm very pleased," she said. "This has been very divisive for our community."

David Beck, land manager of Beck Energy in Ravenna, which has sought to drill the well, said he respects the decision of the church leaders.

"When we first went to the church in 2009, it was a mutually beneficial decision," Beck said May 26. "The church needed the income, and we were excited because it was a good place to drill.

"There were some leadership changes in the church," he said. "They came to me a week ago and said they had a congregational meeting and they had changed their plans.

"We still feel it would be a successful well," he said. "But if that's the way the church feels, we're not going to pursue the well. We'll back off. That's the right thing to do. I respect the leaders in the church."

Beck admitted he was "a little disappointed because we had worked so hard up to this point."

Beck stressed that the decision was only between Beck Energy and the church.

"It had nothing to do with the people who objected, or the city, for that matter," Beck said. "Misinformation was spread around. Regardless of what was said about us, we had a church, a nursing home [The Briarwood] and 16 families [within 300 feet of the proposed well head] who supported us.

"Beck Energy will continue to pursue locations in Summit County," he added.

Church leaders had previously said the natural gas well would help provide money for the church due to a dwindling congregation.

"Now," Fritschel said after the farmer's market had been approved, "the church can raise funds in a manner that will please just about everybody."

Fritschel stressed that she has nothing against natural gas wells.

"But I have a problem when they're in a residential community," she said.

Stow Law Director Brian Reali is also against drilling the well at the church.

"Drilling in this neighborhood is simply inappropriate," Reali previously said. "A worst case scenario of a well or drilling failure here may have devastating effects on the surrounding neighbors, schools, water tower and nursing home."

Church leaders and officials from Beck Energy spent about two years in a tug of war with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to try to get the well drilled.

Beck Energy first applied for a permit with the ODNR in the summer of 2009.

Since July 2010, the ODNR has ruled two separate times to deny drilling at the church, 1567 Pilgrim Drive.

Beck Energy sought mandatory pooling, in which the ODNR rules on whether the drilling can go forward if not everyone within 300 feet of the proposed well head is on board with the idea, but the ODNR ruled against the drilling in October 2010.

Meanwhile, Council approved a farmer's market at the church. It will take place on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon from June 18 to Sept. 18.

Council Vice President Sara Drew said it is "the first time in recent memory that Stow has undertaken something like this."

"We will deliver fresh fruit and vegetables to the people of Stow," Aleman said. "It will add vitality and life to the community. We will make [the fresh food] accessible to the people."

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