A coalition of environmental-conservation groups is calling on Ohio’s lawmakers to declare, “Yes or no, do you want to open Ohio’s state parks to oil and gas drilling and fracking?”
The groups are asking lawmakers to take a position after weeks of statehouse hearings on a trio of bills that could open state lands to drilling, including:
• Governor Kasich’s proposed state operating budget bill (House Bill 153), which proposes to open 154 state parks to oil and gas drilling as well as logging; and
• A pair of identical bills (HB 133 and Senate Bill 108) which propose to open state parks and all other state lands to oil and gas drilling.
|Ohio Environmental Council staff attorney,
Trent Dougherty held a press conference at
Maumee Bay State Park. (Press photo by
All three bills are in various committees and have not reached a floor vote yet. Because the twin House and Senate bills would open all state lands to drilling, the groups fear that state nature preserves potentially could be opened to oil and gas drilling.
The groups similarly are concerned that drilling could occur on state-owned access points and rights of way that adjoin hundreds of miles of Ohio’s state designated scenic, wild, and recreational rivers. An Ohio appeals court ruling last year upheld an ODNR permit allowing an oil and gas well to be drilled only 300 feet, and inside the 100-year floodplain, of the Cuyahoga River in Monroe Falls in Summit County.
The coalition held a press conference Thursday at the Maumee Bay State Park beach sun shelter — one of eight conferences held around the state.
“I want people to call on their state representatives and state senators and ask them, point blank, ‘Will you protect parks such as this and the other parks in Northwest Ohio and vote no on these issues that put these parks in jeopardy of oil and gas drilling?’” said Ohio Environmental Council staff attorney Trent Dougherty.
“I think it’s a call for everyone to call on their state representatives where exactly they stand. We need an answer — yes or no — protect, plunder, frolic, or flack — what are these parks in for?
“If you want to protect these treasures of our state, you’ll vote no. If you intend to drill on these areas, or as the bill says, with 12 cents on the dollar to go to the state to privatize and plunder these state parks, then we want to know from our state representatives and state senators that it is their intention with these pieces of legislation,” Dougherty continued.
The location of oil and gas fields along with deep shale deposits underlying almost the entire state puts nearly all of Ohio’s state parks and other lands at risk for oil and gas exploration, the coalition says.
Shallower oil and gas deposits underlie much of eastern Ohio and are scattered elsewhere around the state. The Marcellus deep shale formation underlies about a third of eastern Ohio, the Utica deep shale formation underlies nearly of the remainder of Ohio, except for a swath of southern Ohio.
Three weeks testimony
During seven separate Ohio and Senate hearings, only one witness testified in favor of opening state parks to drilling — an official from Ohio’s gas and oil industry, claims the coalition press release.
Meanwhile, dozens of citizens and environmental-conservation groups testified against the bills or otherwise criticized the proposals. One House hearing dominated by opponent testimony began at 7 p.m. and concluded at 2:15 a.m. the following morning.
“We have on the heels of over three weeks of opponent testimony at general assembly on three pieces of legislation that will jeopardize, in our eyes, parks such as Maumee Bay State Park, the other parks here in Northwest Ohio, the shores of our great lake as well as other state parks around the state that will be opened up to oil and gas drilling,” Dougherty said.
Ninety-nine percent of Ohio already is open to drilling: private property, with the owner’s permission, and even the majority of its state lands, including its state forests and state wildlife areas. The coalition says this belies the industry’s claims that it is essential to open more state lands to drilling.
A letter sent to lawmakers was signed by representatives of Environment Ohio, National Wildlife Federation, Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection, Ohio Environmental Council, and Sierra Club Ohio Chapter.
The letter followed a recent series of explosive developments on the drilling front:
• Sixteen days ago, a drilling rig caught fire in Village Creek State Park in Lumberton, Texas following an initial explosion. The fire has consumed 50 acres of parkland so far, according to a press release offered by the coalition.
• Last week, a group of lawmakers asked the Ohio attorney general to investigate the origins of an unauthenticated memo that coaches sales people to deceive homeowners as they try to secure drilling leases, the release alleges.
• Last week, the Mohican-Loudonville Visitors Bureau asked the state legislature to impose a six-month moratorium on further consideration of legislation to allow gas and oil drilling in Ohio’s state parks.
“There are potential risks with any industrial activity that occurs,” Dougherty said. “There have been incidents of well fallouts on private lands as well as public lands and local parks.
“There is actually going on today still a fire in a drilling operation in a state park in Texas, where they know a few things about drilling, that has been raging for approximately three weeks. The question is, ‘Do we want to see those risks to occur here in our parks and especially these beautiful treasures such as Maumee Bay?’”
“The (possibility) of horizontal hydro-fracking that injects millions and millions of gallons of water and untold chemicals into our groundwater that can impact the waters of this park and its surrounding areas,” Dougherty alleged.
In May 2010, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management volunteered to have its hydraulic fracturing program reviewed by a non-profit organization, State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, Inc.
The review team concluded the Ohio program is, over all, well-managed and meeting program objectives. The team also made several recommendations for improving the program.
Several of the recommendations pertain to naturally occurring radioactive materials and the management of flowback water – that which is used during the drilling process and is pushed back to the surface by gas being released from shale.
The team recommended the Ohio Department of Health and the Division of Mineral Resources Management complete an assessment of the occurrence and need for regulating radioactive materials associated with fracturing.
The team also said the state should ensure that information on chemical components of fracturing fluids is available to medical personnel in the event of an emergency.
(Press News Editor Larry Limpf contributed to this report).