MILLERSBURG, Ohio — A case in Holmes County may be on its way to the appeals court after a judge ruled Nov. 6 that an oil and gas lease has to be forfeited and the well plugged.
Darrell E. Helms is fighting his neighbors, Thomas C. Whitney and Donald E. Ridgeway, over a well that Helms says 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.
However, the court ruled the well that is considered the Crider No. 4 well was drilled according to the 1918 lease and not as part of the 1976 lease.
According to Thomas White, the attorney for Helms, the well appears to have the distinction of being one of the state’s oldest working wells and has the original iron derrick.
According to court records, the well was in production from 1976 to the end of 2008 and a small portion of 2009. No royalties have been paid since 2009.
The defendant, Thomas C. Whitney, said the nonpayment of royalties is the result of a storm that halted production.
According to court records, a goat pen on Whitney’s 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 wellsite.
Holmes County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert D. Rinfret ordered the leases to be forfeited and canceled. The well, Rinfret ruled, was in violation of the 2010 law that said if a well does not have reported production for two years, it must either be plugged or give notice to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on what the plans are for the well.
According to Ohio Revised Code section 1509.062(A)(1):
“The owner of a well that has not been completed, a well that has not produced within one year after completion, an existing well that is not a horizontal well and that has no reported production for two consecutive reporting periods…, or an existing horizontal well that has no reported production for eight consecutive reporting periods… shall plug the well… obtain temporary inactive well status for the well in accordance with this section, or perform another activity regarding the well that is approved by the chief to the division of oil and gas resources management.”
It is believed that this court decision may be the first to apply the 2010 statute in this manner.
Rinfret determined the well has an inactive status and therefore must be plugged by the defendant (Whitney) within four months of the Holmes County court decision.
The judge did grant the Whitney the right to enter onto the Helms property to plug the well.
Helms’ attorney, Thomas White, said the lawsuit will end multiple leases that were part of the well.
“The land is free and clear and now the landowners can make the decisions they need to,” said White.
Whitney’s attorney, Bob Eckinger, said he expects his clients to appeal the decision, but for now, they are accepting the decision.
“We respect the court’s decision, but based on facts, feel that clients were hindered from producing on the well,” said Eckinger.