Ohio court update: Holmes County decision partly overturned

Court gavel
Farm and Dairy file photo

MILLERSBURG, Ohio — An appellate court judge reversed part of a Holmes County court decision and upheld part of it regarding an oil and gas well there.

The appellate court ruled the trial court overstepped its jurisdiction by ordering a well to be plugged.


Darrell E. Helms is fighting his neighbors, Thomas C. Whitney and Donald E. Ridgeway, over a well that Helms felt should be plugged, and an oil and gas lease that should have been voided years ago.

The case, Darrell E. Helms et. al. v. Thomas C. Whitney et. al., was filed Nov. 27, 2012, and involves a 1918 well, Crider No. 4 well, and a 1976 oil and gas lease.

The 1918 lease terminated in June 2013. However, there was a second lease involved in the case.

The defendants, Thomas C. Whitney and Donald E. Ridgeway, claimed interest in Helms’ land through a 1976 oil and gas lease.

Appeals court decision

In a June 4 decision by Ohio’s Fifth District Court of Appeals, a November 2013 decision by the Holmes County Court of Common Pleas, was partly vacated. Primarily, the court overturned part of the lower court’s ruling that ordered Ridgeway and Whitney, the operators of the Crider Well No. 4, to plug the well within four months, as well of those ruling parts that found the well to be inactive.

Ridgeway and Whitney’s attorney, Robert W. Eckinger, argued to the appellate court that the chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, has sole authority to declare a well to have an inactive status and a well to be plugged. He argued that the Holmes County decision overstepped the court’s authority.

Eckinger said the Fifth District Court of Appeal opinion is significant because it means that decisions like this one should only be made by the ODNR.

According to court documents, the well appears to have the distinction of being one of the state’s oldest working wells and has the original iron derrick.

The well was reportedly in production from 1976 to the end of 2008 and a small portion of 2009. No royalties have been paid since 2009.

The defendant, Whitney, told the Holmes County court that the nonpayment of royalties is the result of a storm that halted production.

According to court records, a goat pen on Helms’ property fell during the storm, and stopped electricity from reaching the well pad, which prevented production. Since then, the parties could not come to agreement over restoring power to the well site.

The next step

According to Eckinger, the Whitney family expects to file a complaint for an injunction to stop Helms from interfering with the operation of the well. The Whitneys expect to get the derrick up and running once they can gain access from Helms.

The court never forfeited the 1976 lease, which means it is still in operation.

Eckinger said he doesn’t look for more court action in the matter.


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