Last Wednesday, despite vociferous public protest, the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission voted to approve nominations to lease Salt Fork State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area, and Zepernick Wildlife Area to the oil and gas industry for fracking.
They denied two nominations — one for all of Wolf Run State Park and one for part of Salt Fork — because more than one state agency manages the land sought, and those agencies had not been sufficiently consulted. However, those nominations can be revised to cut the land not managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and resubmitted at a later date.
We won’t sugarcoat this: It’s a loss not just for Save Ohio Parks, but for the land, water, air, wildlife, citizens, and democracy in Ohio. But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
We launched what became the Save Ohio Parks campaign in January, just after the December lame duck session in which Ohio legislators stuffed HB 507, a bill about the sale of poultry chicks, with unrelated oil and gas amendments declaring methane gas to be “green” and mandating that state agencies allow fracking on public land.
As the commission embarked on a rule-making process to establish a procedure for taking oil and gas industry applications to frack public land — and supposedly for taking public comments — we began holding meetings and trainings.
Thirteen of us showed up to testify against fracking our state parks, wildlife areas, and public lands at a commission meeting in February, and 14 showed up in April. Only one person at each hearing testified in favor — yet the commission made whatever changes the oil and gas industry asked for while ignoring other testimony.
5,000 public comments opposed to fracking
Once the commission’s rules were in place — after another hearing in front of the Joint Committee for Agency Rule Review — oil and gas applications to frack our state parks began rolling in, and the public commenting period was open.
From the end of May through October, over 4,000 comments were submitted through the Save Ohio Parks website and action alerts, along with hundreds of comments submitted independently by Ohio citizens, all opposed to fracking our state parks, wildlife areas, and public lands.
We sent study after study to the commissioners showing that fracking harms our health, climate, and environment, but does not improve our economy — that in fact, preserving our parks and wildlife areas adds more to the state economy than fracking ever could.
We looked into hundreds of pro-fracking comments and found at least 98 people who told us they never wrote the comments submitted in their name. We brought this to the commission, which declined to take any action.
We pulled public records showing that, contrary to industry claims, accidents at oil and gas operations in Ohio are an almost daily occurrence. Every year for years the state has tracked hundreds of leaks, spills, fires, and even explosions and evacuations. What if that happened in one of our parks?
You can find all the public comments posted on the commission website. We don’t know if they read any of it. But we do know they went on an oil and gas tour with the industry.
Shortly before the November 15 meeting, we received photos of Encino trucks and equipment already setting up just outside Salt Fork State Park — so we had some idea of how the vote would go. But we were not going to let that happen without a fight.
Some 100 Ohioans drove to Columbus from across the state to attend the Save Ohio Parks press conference and meeting of the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission — and we let the commissioners know what we think. See photo album here
We held up signs and banners, sang and chanted — and when the first vote to frack Salt Fork took place, a group from Climate Defiance took over the meeting with a large banner that said “Commissioners: No Fracking Our Ohio Public Lands.”
At that point, the commissioners left the room for 15 minutes — then incredibly, came back and proceeded to sell out most of the rest of Salt Fork, along with Valley Run and Zepernick — all while dozens of Ohio citizens chanted and yelled from a few feet away.
The next step in the commission process is to put the approved nominations up for bid — literally selling our public lands to the highest oil and gas bidder. That won’t happen until January, and then it will take some time to select the winner.
There’s also the matter of the apparently fraudulent pro-fracking comments. Almost 150 people are on the record stating they did not submit the comments that bear their name in support of fracking Ohio’s state parks, wildlife areas, and public lands.
Attorney General David Yost opened an investigation on September 11, but so far there have been no updates. At its September 18 meeting, Commission Chair Ryan Richardson said they would proceed with their decision-making regardless of the investigation.
Meanwhile, the Save Ohio Parks steering committee is considering our next steps. We are looking into multiple options and will keep you updated as the fight against fracking our state parks and wildlife areas moves into its next phase.
Thank you so much for your passion and commitment to preserving our public lands. We urge you to keep contacting the commissioners and the governor to tell them what you think about fracking our public lands — and about the anti-democratic process that got us to this point.