COLUMBUS — A couple who sued to try to stop shale gas drilling around a state-owned lake in eastern Ohio won an early victory this week as a judge ruled their lawsuit can proceed.
The Franklin County judge ruled that the Guernsey County couple has legal standing to try to stop hydraulic fracturing — known as fracking — around and beneath Seneca Lake, about 80 miles east of Columbus.
Leatra Harper and Steven Janstro sued in October after the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District approved a $40.3 million lease with a Colorado-based drilling company for underground mineral rights to 6,400 acres, including the lake, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
Common Pleas Judge Tim Horton ruled on Monday that the plaintiffs have established that they “have suffered or are threatened with direct and concrete injury” to their health, to the environment where their property lies and to the property’s value.
The decision allows the lawsuit to proceed against the conservancy district, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the drilling company, Antero Resources. The couple ultimately wants the court to find that the watershed district and the state acted improperly in approving the project.
The judge rejected the defendants’ argument that the couple didn’t have legal standing because their “alleged injuries are speculative and hypothetical.”
The lease does not permit wells to be drilled on district-owned land, but it allows Antero Resources to drill beneath the lake and on district land from wells outside the district. District spokesman Darrin Lautenschleger said three wells “have gone under the property to begin production.”
The drilling operations will continue despite the litigation, he said.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Natural Resources, which granted the drilling permits for the project, said the department will not comment on ongoing litigation.
More than 660 fracking wells have been drilled in Ohio since 2010.