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Will Ohio Senate Greenlight Oil and Gas Drilling in State Parks?

State-owned lands such as Shawnee State Forest could be opened to oil and gas drilling if state senators override a veto from the Governor. (ODNR)
State-owned lands such as Shawnee State Forest could be opened to oil and gas drilling if state senators override a veto from the Governor. (ODNR)
July 12, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio lawmakers could soon greenlight oil and gas development in Ohio state parks and public lands.

Last week, the Ohio House voted to override a veto that would have allowed Gov. John Kasich to retain appointment authority for members of the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission – the group that makes decisions about drilling on state-owned public lands.

If Senate lawmakers also override the veto, that authority would go to the Ohio General Assembly.

Cheryl Johncox, the Dirty Fuels campaign organizer for the Sierra Club in Ohio, says lawmakers are troubled that Kasich hasn't appointed anyone to the commission.

"Folks in Ohio are very aware that the General Assembly wants to frack on our public lands, even though there are polls that say that 70 percent of Ohioans are in opposition to opening our public lands for fracking," she states.

Public lands and trusts across the state could be affected, Johncox adds, including lands maintained by Ohio State University and Ohio University, as well as Mohican State Park, Hocking Hills State Park and the Shawnee State Forest.

Julie Weatherington-Rice, a hydrogeologist from Worthington, explains that researchers have documented land use changes in parts of Southeastern Ohio and Pennsylvania due to fracking. She adds a good deal of deep forest cover has been lost to roads, compressor stations and other drilling infrastructure.

"You lose an entire population of life in that region,” she states. “It's the first loss for which there is no economic valuation.

“Nobody talks about that. Nobody assumes that the deep-forest biosphere has a value, but it does."

Supporters of oil and gas drilling argue it could provide a significant economic benefit for communities near public lands.

But Johncox counters that state parks and lands belong to Ohioans who cherish those areas for hiking, hunting, fishing and other recreation.

"Toxic benzene, cancer-causing stuff comes out of the ground during this fracking process and is released into the air,” she stresses. “And families that are just camping with their kids could then be exposed to this toxic stuff, while they're enjoying themselves."

Johncox notes that while Ohio is the seventh largest state for population, it ranks 47th nationally for access to public lands. She maintains the public shouldn't have to compete with the energy industry for use of these places.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH