Environmental groups speak out on drilling

Jane BeathardAn article in the summer/fall edition of the Ohio Environmental Council’s (OEC) Green Watch magazine said four conservation organizations joined forces in May to lobby for tougher rules regarding oil and gas exploration and drilling in Ohio’s state parks.

The OEC, Buckeye Forest Council, Mohican Advocates and the Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club formed the “Coalition to Protect Ohio’s Parks.” Their goal is to shield Ohio’s natural places – most specifically state parks – from drilling, especially the highly controversial horizontal hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Information about the coalition is available at here.

House Bill 133 opened state lands to drilling and created a “nomination process” for leasing parks, forests and wildlife areas to a new Oil and Gas Leasing Commission. It establishes a tier system that prioritizes state lands for oil and gas leasing. State nature preserves remain exempt from drilling.

The Green Watch article criticizes the Ohio DNR for pushing citizen interest groups aside in the drilling controversy and keeping details of the nomination process hidden from the public. That criticism is likely justified given the amount of emotional “heat” surrounding fracking and the penchant of the Kasich Administration for secrecy and a take-no-prisoners approach to state business.

The article also named four state parks and five state forests targeted by the DNR for future oil and gas leasing. Those eastern Ohio parks were Barkcamp, Beaver Creek, Fernwood and Guilford Lake.

However, a check with DNR spokesman Carlo LoParo said that list is out of date and based on information obtained by the Sierra Club more than a year ago. Beaver Creek, home of a national and state wild and scenic river, is definitely not targeted, LoParo said.

He didn’t provide specifics on which parks are likely to be nominated in the next few months. However, he said the nomination process will be sensitive to environmental concerns. Heavily used park areas are off limits to leasing.

Rules will not allow drilling rigs on parklands. However, rigs will be allowed on adjoining lands for horizontal drilling into underground park mineral reserves at a depth of 5,000 to 8,000 feet, LoParo said.

DNR hopes to use oil and gas revenues to address a backlog of needed repairs and upgrades in the state park system. That backlog amounts to somewhere between $300 and $500 million, according to the DNR Web site.

Categories: Ohio – Jane Beathard

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