By Randi Pokladnik
Ohio HB 507 was rushed through the “lame duck” session without any public comments. This bill, which facilitates fracking on our public lands, becomes a law on April 7. Once that happens, the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission will be in control of leasing processes.
They are creating rules and lease agreement forms for the state parcels “nominated for fracking.” However, until the rules are in place, leases can be executed “without public notices, without public comments and without competitive bidding or oversight by the commission to protect the public interests.”
Unlike New York, which banned fracking based on numerous health studies, Ohio has embraced the industry with open arms and a lackadaisical attitude toward regulations protecting the land, air, water and citizens’ health.
Our state lands are now open for oil and gas extraction, and we are faced with an impossible task: trying to preserve our forests and parks from an extractive industry.
In a February meeting of the commission, Ohio citizens asked for a minimum 60-day comment period, advance notification of the parcels being considered, parcel information including maps, and factors being considered in making decisions.
I attended the March 1 commission meeting, but citizens were prohibited from speaking or asking questions. Instead, the majority of the meeting was allocated to the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, which discussed its very lucrative long-term association with the oil and gas industry and its template for lease agreements.
While the MWCD claims its mission is flood reduction, conservation and recreation, after the presentation one might say its mission is to make money, lots of money.
In fact “no one has benefited financially as much as the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, Ohio’s No. 1 beneficiary of drilling.” The MWCD has made millions of dollars on water sales, fracking leases and royalties. Additionally, the MWCD gathers fees from boaters who use the lakes, home leases, park fees, money from timbering and fees from flood-protection assessments.
Citing the MWCD royalty range (18-20%) as a template, the commission set 12.5% as the minimum royalty fee for state lands, saying they “are probably leaving dollars on the table.”
There is little doubt our state lands are being viewed as money makers, not public lands where Ohio’s citizens can enjoy nature or where biodiversity is protected. Ohio’s citizens own these lands, and tax dollars support these agencies, but it is doubtful we will have a seat at the table when it comes to deciding which lands can be leased.
Muskingum’s land manager Nate Wilson described how their leases “require additional setbacks (3,000 feet), testing and additional containment facilities in case of accidents.” But their input into the process ends there.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has shown it lacks the ability to enforce violations or levy fines, and the industry benefits from exemptions of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act.
MWCD Executive Director Craig Butler said, “They do not put surface construction on MWCD lands, but we do have pipeline access and gathering line access and water lines and those types of things.”
It is still unclear if our state lands will be impacted by drilling pads. Companies could possibly use a “separate written surface use agreement” to construct well pads on state lands.
The widespread use of high-pressure hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has turned rural areas of Southeast Ohio into industrial zones. I travel along Routes 151, 250 and 646 in the Tappan Lake area of the MWCD watershed and see endless pipelines cutting across hillsides. Well pads, access roads, water withdraw lines and infrastructure are devouring the landscape. Is this what we want for our state lands?
Many Ohioans chose to live in rural areas because of the beauty the forests and hills provide. Real stewards of the environment protect precious resources for future generations; they do not destroy them for financial gains. No amount of money or extravagant marina is worth exposing our children to toxic chemicals and pollution from an unregulated industry. Our rural communities have become sacrificial zones at the mercy of the fossil fuel industry.
Proponents of fracking only tout the monetary gains and continue to ignore the long-term health effects associated with fracking. They ignore the increases in methane emissions, which are fueling climate change and contributing to the collapse of ecosystems worldwide.
They allow radioactive leachate to enter our waterways. They overlook the millions of gallons of radioactive produced water and carcinogenic chemicals that travel along our rural roads every day. Accidents involving trucks and tankers have increased by 14% in fracked areas of Ohio.
The recent train derailment in East Palestine reminds us of how easily one mistake can permanently alter the lives of thousands of people and forever taint the environment. Until Ohio puts health, safety and a clean environment ahead of the interests of the fossil fuel industry, we can only wonder what will be left of our state lands and rural communities in the aftermath of this rush to frack.
Dr. Randi Pokladnik was born and raised in Ohio. She earned an associate degree in Environmental Engineering, a BA in Chemistry, MA and PhD in Environmental Studies. She is certified in hazardous materials regulations and holds a teaching license in science and math. She worked as a research chemist for National Steel Corporation for 12 years and taught secondary and post-secondary science and math classes for more than 20 years. Her research includes an analysis of organic farming regulations and environmental issues impacting the Appalachian region of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. She lives near Tappan Lake in an eco- log home that she and her husband built in 2001. Her hobbies include running, gardening, sewing and doing fun things with her granddaughters.
This opinion piece originally ran in The Bargain Hunter on March 15, 2023.