OH: State moves closer to gas drilling in state parks

Toledo, Ohio (AP) – Ohio has moved closer to joining neighboring
states in the debate over natural gas drilling, a shift that could
bring jobs and more money along with worries over the effects on
drinking water and the environment.

Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan released last week includes a
proposal to open up state parks to drilling for natural gas and
oil, along with expanding timber sales.

Much of eastern Ohio sits on top of a lucrative shale deposit that
also stretches beneath most of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, but
Ohio has yet to cash-in on the natural gas reserve like the other
states.

It’s not known yet how much of Ohio’s park land would be suitable
for drilling or how much money leasing the land would bring, said
David Mustine, head of the state’s DNR.

A state committee that looked at the idea two years ago put Ohio’s
estimated take as high as $5 million a year.

The state will spend the next three to six months determining where
natural gas exploration might take place, he said, ruling out any
drilling in Ohio’s nature preserves, where there are rare and
endangered species.

To tap into the underground rock formation, drillers inject
millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals into each
well to break apart the shale and release trapped gas. Opponents
say the method called fracking could poison water supplies and harm
the parks.

“Opening our parks to drilling and logging is like robbing Peter to
pay Paul,” Jen Miller of the Sierra Club Ohio chapter said. “It
will likely reduce visitors and result in less money spent at
convenience stores, sporting goods stores, campgrounds, and
restaurants. It just doesn’t make economic sense.”

The natural gas industry contends the method has been used safely
for decades.

Among large gas-producing states, Pennsylvania is the only one that
allows large amounts of wastewater produced by gas drilling to be
discharged into rivers. Other states don’t allow the practice
because of environmental concerns, and most require the water to be
injected into rock formations far underground.

Kasich made it clear even before taking office in January that
opening Ohio up to drilling would be a priority. He thinks drilling
would create jobs and attract businesses looking for energy
sources.

Money from leasing the state land will go toward maintaining and
improving the state’s parks, which have a backlog of repairs
totaling $500 million, Mustine said.

“It’s one of the reasons why we’re so positive about exploring park
lands,” he said.

There are no plans, though, to implement a fee for visiting Ohio’s
state parks or increase the cost of hunting and fishing licenses
over the next two years to help with the budget, Mustine
said.

Not all of the state’s land will be cleared for drilling. That’s
because it doesn’t own mineral rights for much of its land, said
Scott Zody, an assistant director with the natural resources
department.

Ohio receives federal land and water conservation grants for much
of the land in state parks and would need to permission from the
federal government to allow drilling.

“This is going to be a very deliberate process,” Zody said.

The state also will be looking at expanding logging in parks and
state-owned land to generate more money. It already sells timber
from state forests.

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