Analysis of state contracts to plug orphaned wells reveals that cleanup costs might creep into the billions

Plugging the myriad orphaned oil and gas wells around Ohio costs, on average, more than $110,000 per well, according to a new analysis of Department of Natural Resources data. The research was pulled from contracts the state awarded in 2019 by the ARO Working Group, a network that studies the decommissioning of oil assets and is affiliated with environmental group Earthworks. Compared with Ohio’s actual cleanup costs, operators are only required to put up a fund, called a bond, of $5,000 per well or $15,000 for all of their wells. This money, a fraction of the true price tag, is returned to operators once they plug their wells, which is meant as an incentive to do so. “My big concern is that the business models here in Ohio are premised on cheap water, cheap waste and cheap landscape change,” said Ted Auch, the Great Lakes program coordinator at environmental group FracTracker Alliance.

Ohio River rises: The minds behind Louisville’s riverfront revival

In Louisville, Kentucky, the Ohio River has something of an image problem. It seems like everything imaginable has ended up in the river at one time or another. There are the usual suspects like plastic bottles, Styrofoam coolers and tires. There are the byproducts of cities and industries: sewage, landfill juice and industrial waste. And then there are the things that seem almost uniquely Kentucky like coal ash and bourbon.

Bipartisan Group of Representatives Introduce Bill After Eye on Ohio Investigation into Property Tax Loophole

This story was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. 

Ohio lawmakers reached across the aisle to introduce a new bill that would close a property tax loophole on commercial property sales in the state. 

Reps. Mike Skindell (D-13) and Doug Green (R-66) co-sponsored HB449 in late December. The proposed law would not allow businesses to avoid conveyance taxes by spinning off commercial properties into shell companies. 

“We have been seeing a loss of revenue because of companies being placed in these LLCs. So when the property is transferred, it’s in the LLC and that [conveyance] fee is avoided. So what you have is a situation where the counties have less revenue on these, then they have to raise it on other people,” Skindell said.

Rising waters: Aging levees, climate change and the challenge to hold back the Ohio River

When 78-year-old Jim Casto looks at the towering floodwalls that line downtown Huntington, West Virginia, he sees a dark history of generations past. 

The longtime journalist and local historian is short in stature, yet tall in neighborhood tales. On Casto’s hand shines a solid gold ring, signifying his more than 40 years of reporting at the local paper. He walks up to the entrance of Harris Riverfront Park, one of 21 gate openings in the more than 3.5 miles of floodwalls covered in decades of charcoal-colored grime and dirt. The river has shaped the city, providing the transportation for coal, steel and chemical products. But Casto also knows the river has the power to destroy, as it did before the omnipresent walls were there. 

Casto published a photobook on the most destructive flood the Ohio River Valley has seen. 

“January of 1937 was exceptionally warm.

Ohio River community bands together to slow runoff and add greenspace

The city of Newport, Kentucky, is shaped on its north and west borders by the Ohio and Licking rivers. And while Newport hosts entertainment venues and a bourbon distillery bolstered by views of Cincinnati’s skyline, its geography and history also create challenges. 

As a Rust Belt town with a steel mill and a lead smelting plant no longer in use, Newport’s population of 15,000 people is half of what it was in 1960. The community is left with many vacant lots, more concrete than greenspace, and sewers that overflow into streets and basements after a hard rain. 

To slow the flow, residents have adopted the idea of strategic depaving. Depaving, or removing unnecessary pavement, creates the opportunity for more greenspace and makes it more likely that rainwater would be absorbed rather than entering the outdated infrastructure. With the community looking to be part of the solution, the goal became to “design those amenities to provide the ecosystem services that we want from green infrastructure,” said Kirsten Schwarz, who led the effort in her capacity as director of the Northern Kentucky University Ecological Stewardship Institute.

How Have Deregulation and Extra Fees Affected Your Energy Bill?

This calculator provides cost and/or savings estimates of how much money you may have paid (or saved) each month following retail electric deregulation. It’s based on data shared with Eye on Ohio and the Energy News Network from a study that looked at how extra fees and more competition have impacted utility bills. (Note, however, that it doesn’t account for the expected costs of House Bill 6, passed in July 2019.)

What’s a cross-subsidy effect? A cross-subsidy exists when one group pays a higher cost in order to allow another group to pay less. 

Two types of cross subsidies appear on Ohio electric bills. The first type (Type I) is when residential or commercial customers pay a higher rate (cents/KWh) than industrial customers (e.g., Amazon or Honda). 

The second type (Type II) of cross-subsidy is when non-regulated utility costs are passed through to regulated customers.

Investigation: Blacks, black neighborhoods most likely to be traffic stop targets in Ohio’s 3 biggest cities

Investigation: Blacks, black neighborhoods most likely to be traffic stop targets in Ohio’s 3 biggest cities

By Max Londberg and Lucia Walinchus

Video by Michael Nyerges

Reporters from the nonprofit newsroom Eye on Ohio, The Cincinnati Enquirer and researchers from Stanford University’s Big Local News program examined police stops to assess how the three largest communities in Ohio use public safety resources and to identify potential bias in policing. Followed in a public park and forced to leave. Cuffed and questioned for whistling while waiting for a bus. Pulled over for spending too much time at a gas station. Some black drivers and pedestrians in Cincinnati say they’ve been unfairly stopped and questioned by police. 

“It seems to be if you are a minority, you’re a target and you’re automatically doing something wrong,” said Michelle Cameron, a black resident who lives in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Westwood.