Oil extraction

The Oil and Gas Land Management Commission met Wednesday morning to discuss a change to the Ohio Revised Code which will compel state agencies starting April 7 to approve any request from the oil and gas industry for extraction on public land. 

In attendance at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources office on Morse Road was a group of dedicated users of Ohio state parks and forests who demanded robust public notice and commenting procedures before any state lands are fracked or drilled, as well as calling out the oil and gas industry’s grab of our public land. 

The meeting follows the passage of HB 507, signed into law by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on January 6. HB 507 forces any state agency, which owns a parcel of public land, to allow the oil and gas industry to extract from public land. It changed the phrase “may lease” to “shall lease” under the law.

The “shall lease” clause in HB 507 goes into effect on April 7, and state parks or state forests are not exempt.

“This includes any of Ohio’s 75 state parks and 25 state forests, as well as public college and university campuses, Department of Transportation land, land owned by the Ohio Historical Society or Department of Corrections, or really any land owned by any state agency for any purpose,” said Cathy Cowan Becker, an activist from Columbus.

This “shall lease” procedure will continue in Ohio until the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission creates rules for processing requests by the oil and gas industry to frack and drill on public land – and those rules must get all the way through the regulatory approval process, which can take months, said Becker.

So it’s unlikely the new rule will make it through the regulatory approval process by April 7, when HB 507 goes into effect – which means that during the lag time before the new rule is approved, the oil and gas industry will essentially be able to frack and extract in Ohio’s state parks and forests with no notification, no public comment, and no accountability, added Becker. 

A grassroots group of experienced environmentalists and fans of Ohio state parks are mobilizing to make Ohioans aware of this impending oil and gas grab of our taxpayer-supported public lands for industry profit. They rallied over 750 written comments and fourteen activists testified at the meeting Wednesday morning. 

“There was only one person on the oil and gas side, from a group called National Association of Royalty Owners,” said Becker. “Even that guy asked for strict environmental procedures and for the commission to look at the history of the company that is applying for oil and gas leases to make sure they are honest.” 

Becker said HB 507’s changes to the Ohio Revised Code has other serious flaws, namely the complete lack of procedures for notifying the public when a parcel of land is being nominated for oil and gas extraction, or for the public to provide comment. 

Activists are asking the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission to add six points regarding public notice and comment to the draft rule and expedite it through the regulatory approval process. These points include: 

  • The commission must allow at least 60 days for public comment from the time the oil and gas industry nominates a parcel for oil and gas extraction to the time the commission meets to make a decision.
  • Notice for each nominated parcel must be posted on the commission’s public website at least 60 days in advance and remain on the website through the close of the commenting period.
  • The commission must create an email notification list, with signup readily available on the commission website, that provides direct email notice of each nominated parcel at least 60 days in advance of a decision date. 
  • Each notice must specify the date on which the notice was first posted, the procedure for providing public comment, and the date and time at which public comment is due.
  • Each notice must provide electronic access to the location and map of the parcel nominated for oil and gas extraction.
  • Each notice must include a list of factors the commission will consider in making a decision about whether to allow oil and gas extraction on the parcel of public land.

“Without strong, rule-based procedures for meaningful public involvement, the public will be unable to participate in the statutory state lands nomination process,” said Roxanne Groff of Athens. “The commission will be violating the public trust and showing wanton disregard for their responsibility to hear the concerns of the people who use, pay for, and depend on their public lands to be protected.”

Loraine McCosker of Athens said state parks and public lands bring joy and health benefits to many, but the GOP-besieged Statehouse, as so many know, seem to only care about those they are sold-out to.

“I do not recognize the legitimacy of leasing our public lands to an industry that will further destroy the climate of our planet. I am requesting that citizens have a voice in their management and their future,” said McCosker.

Becker believes the state’s Oil and Gas Land Management Commission has to be concerned and frustrated by the oil and gas industry’s power grab which is undermining this commission’s own authority.

“The entire purpose of the commission is to oversee nominations and leases for oil and gas extraction. Yet they will not be informed about these leases after HB 507 goes into effect, as the leases will go directly to state agencies that will be required to approve them,” she said.

A follow up meeting at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources office on Morse Road is scheduled for March 1 at 10 am to discuss the public notice and commenting procedures.