TERRE HAUTE —
The Indiana Division of Oil and Gas well records show there are 72 existing oil wells in Vigo County. It is my observation that no one seemed to notice or put up a stink regarding all of the current oil wells, until recently. Last month, Hunter Von Leer asked for permission to rezone his property in northeast Vigo County in order to drill for oil. This may not have been a big deal, but it was, for the simple fact that it was close enough to nice neighborhoods and a cherished county park.
A typical county or city public meeting will only draw in a handful of people. At the public meetings last month in regards to Hunter Von Leer’s property, it was standing room only. Obviously, people care about drilling for oil, and for good reason. Studies have shown a large amount of oil drilling can have an effect on our environment and our health.
History of oil in Vigo County
Of the existing oil wells in Vigo County, 30 or so were initially drilled and completed in the late 1920s and early-to-mid 1930s. Another 25 or so wells were completed in the late 1940s and into the mid-1950s. Fourteen wells were completed in the 1960s through the 1980s. About 17 more of the existing wells were completes in the 1990s. Since 2000, an additional 29 wells or so have been completed in Vigo County. Many other wells were drilled during these times, and earlier, which have since been plugged and abandoned.
The business of oil keeps on flowing. Indiana’s oil production hit a 10-year high last year. Some officials believe the uptick was because of the state’s most productive oil well — in Vigo County. The oil well sits off Indiana 42 by the Terre Haute International Airport. Where there is oil, money will follow. Since the discovery of the productive oil well off Indiana 42, a handful of permits have been filed.
The permitting process
One of the major complaints brought up at the public meetings last month was that nearby communities were not notified that such a change could occur close to their property. One way property owners can be more watchful is through the permitting process. The Division of Oil and Gas usually doesn’t become aware of new areas of interest until such time that a permit application is filed with their office to drill the well. Sifting through permits is one way concerned residents can stay informed if a potential oil well is going in near their property.
“In addition to the existing wells in Vigo County, our records show there are an additional 12 permits that have been issued where the wells have not yet been completed. Many of them have not been drilled yet. The permits are valid for one year,” said Herschel McDivitt, director of Indiana Division of Oil and Gas.
The location of these wells can be determined by viewing the scanned permit documents at www.in.gov/
dnr/dnroil/5447.htm. One should then select “Vigo County” in the appropriate field and enter each of the following permit numbers for the 12 which have permits: 54371, 54372, 54373, 54404, 54469, 54514, 54521, 54529, 54530, 54531, 54532, 54533. Click on the “search” button to find the record and then click on the “view files” hyperlink to view scanned documents for the particular permit.
Any interested person can become aware of potential wells by checking the Indiana Division of Oil and Gas website on a weekly basis. The site publishes a Weekly Report listing permits issued. This information may be viewed at www.in.gov/dnr/dnroil/3766.htm.
Each permit that is issued by the Division of Oil and Gas is scanned and made available for viewing on the site. To view individual permit documents, go to www.in.gov/dnr/dnroil/5447.htm and enter the specific permit number in the appropriate field as explained above.
Signs drilling may take place
Taking time out of your busy life to check for permits can get cumbersome. Another indicator is markings along the side of the road for seismic testing. Look for marker flags, or long strands of cable plugging into a metal box.
“Depending on the size of the area they want to look at, they have to get approval from the land owners that they will be crossing, basically to enter on the property and string the cable. Some of these cables can run for a mile or more. Frequently they will run them along public roads within the right of way because it is easier for them to get approval to do that,” McDivitt said.
Can oil be drilled in my sub-division?
As far as the Division of Oil and Gas requirements go, an oil well must be within a drilling unit of the appropriate 10- or 20-acre size. It cannot be closer than 330 feet from the drilling unit boundary or adjacent property and no closer than 660 feet from another oil well producing from the same formation. State law also prohibits the drilling of a well within 200 feet of any building or other structure without written authorization from the structure owner.
“In some localities, like Vigo County, oil and gas well operators are required to comply with local zoning ordinances which sometimes apply to oil and gas wells,” McDivitt said.
The Division of Oil and Gas has not been requested to work with Vigo County to come up with better guidelines which may be used at the local level. McDivitt says his office has responded to all questions that have been raised in the past, and it’s willing to work together with local officials upon request.
“I would be more than happy to have a seat at the table, because quite frankly a lot of people don’t understand oil and gas and how business is done,” McDivitt said. “County commissioners and the planning folks are kind of the same way. A lot of times in trying to decide in how best to deal with these, it is important to have somebody there who understands the business and can provide information. I think that is probably the more valuable role that we can provide. But again, we don’t inject ourselves into the business of local counties and municipalities. But if they were to request our help or [cooperation] we would be more than happy to do that.”
One thing is clear: As Indiana reaps the benefits of high crude oil prices, local municipalities need to have a plan. If a clear, updated plan is not put in place, the Crossroads of America could fall victim to poor oil drilling procedures. The health of Hoosiers and unique wildlife could suffer in order for a few landowners to strike it rich. I leave you this week with the tools to stay informed.
Jane Santucci is an environmental freelance writer for the Tribune-Star. Santucci is a proud volunteer with TREES Inc. and Our Green Valley. She also sits on the Wabash Valley Goodwill Industries Board of Directors. Share your environmental stories and tips with her at JaneSantucci@yourgreenvalley.com.