Fracking Exposed: A State of Emergency
Ohio fracking protest in 2012. Photo by Bill Baker

Ohio public lands – which include 800,000 acres of state parks, forests, wildlife areas, historical sites, college campuses and transportation land – belong to all of us. Ohioans own these lands through paying our taxes and employing state agencies to manage them. We are the largest stakeholder and we are the most impacted by their use.

Despite the obvious stake of all Ohioans in what happens to our public lands, at each step in the legislative and administrative process the state is ignoring our input and restricting our access to the information we need to participate as engaged citizens in a democracy.

HB 507 forces the hand of fracking

What started as an agricultural bill focused on poultry chicks, HB 507 quickly grew in scope to grant fracking and petrochemical wishes to industry — all through a series of unrelated amendments pushed through with almost no public notice during a lame duck session.

The way in which HB 507 was passed is unconstitutional. First, it violates the state’s one-subject rule, which says that each bill can only contain one subject area. Clearly HB 507 — which includes clauses about poultry, food purity, pesticides, electric utilities, licensing of auctioneers, and towing and storage of motor vehicles — covers more than one subject area.

Second, HB 507 violates Ohio’s three considerations clause, which states that bills must be brought up for consideration three times before a vote. The general assembly only considered the final version of this bill that included leasing state parks to oil and gas once in each house. 

Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB 507 into law on January 7, 2023, forcing the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission to begin promulgating administrative rules to oversee applications by the oil and gas industry to frack our Ohio state parks and other public lands.

Commission caters to oil and gas

The Oil and Gas Land Management Commission (previously called the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission) was established to oversee fracking on Ohio public lands when HB 133 passed in 2011. By state law it is already stacked. Two of the four governor-appointed members are representatives of the oil and gas industry, with one from finance and one from conservation.

There are no climate scientists. No geologists. No biologists. No ecologists. No health care professionals. And most important, no members to represent the wishes of the citizens of Ohio who own and use our public lands.

Roxanne Groff testifies at the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission on April 10, 2023.

The stacked nature of the commission was apparent during the public commenting process on draft rule 155-1-01, which oversees leasing of our public lands. Across three hearings, the commission received more than 1,300 written comments, and 30 people drove to Columbus from all corners of the state to testify in person. Virtually everyone who testified or submitted a written comment expressed concern about fracking on our public lands, with a vast majority asking for specific ways to facilitate more public input.

Yet while the commission ignores public input, it caters to oil and gas. For example, at the April 10 hearing just one witness — a representative of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association (OOGA) — testified in favor of fracking on public lands. Among other things, the witness asked the commission to eliminate a clause in the lease form allowing the state to cancel the lease if necessary for the public interest.

Despite claiming that “the Commission strongly values and will continue to prioritize public participation and input,” the OGLMC made the changes the gas industry asked for while ignoring what the public asked for, despite the volume of input they got from us.

No experts that don’t support fracking

As it now stands, the commission is allowing 45 days for public comment on a lease nomination, not the 60 days we asked for. They are so far not allowing us any time after the deadline to review comments that have come in. Nor have they heard from any scientists or experts who we have recommended, even though they heard a presentation from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, which has made a lot of money from fracking state land, at a meeting where people who live in the district were not allowed to speak.

State law requires the Commission to consider public comments and objections when deciding whether a state parcel will be leased to the oil and gas industry for extraction. This has no meaning if we are not provided with the information we need and time to make comments and objections — and if the commission refuses to hear from experts who may not hold a convenient point of view on fracking.

Without strong, rule-based procedures for meaningful public involvement, the public will be unable to participate in the statutory state lands nomination process.

Surface impacts?

In signing HB 507 into law, Gov. Mike DeWine declared there will be no “surface use access” on public lands. Yet by state law, oil and gas companies can negotiate a separate agreement with state agencies which would allow for surface impacts such as frack pads, pipelines, access roads, timber removal and water usage on our public lands — all with no public notice or comment.

Gov. Mike DeWine signs a bill into law.

Repeatedly we asked the commission to require oil and gas companies to disclose any intended surface use at the time they applied to frack under public land. The commission chose not to issue this requirement. This means the most destructive portion of the lease will be dealt with in meetings behind closed doors with no public notice or oversight. This is information we need to be engaged citizens as part of a functioning democracy.

If our representatives are not listening to us, who are they listening to?

Methane gas is not green

Besides kickstarting fracking in our state parks and other public lands, HB 507 is also the first law in the country that declares methane gas to be “green energy.” How did such a law get passed in Ohio?

The Washington Post followed the money — which led directly to the oil and gas industry. A little-known organization called The Empowerment Alliance — led by executives at Ariel Corporations, which manufactures gas compressors — worked with Ohio state Sens. George Lang and Mark Romanchuk.

TEA spent over $1 million to support Republicans in the 2022 election. These same Republicans stuffed the chicken bill with oil and gas amendments — model legislation from the fossil-fuel funded American Legislative Exchange Council.

Fracking law illuminates Ohio political corruption

State lawmakers’ decision to push through fracking in Ohio state parks and public lands is yet another example of how Ohio’s democracy is imperiled due to gerrymandered voting districts and recent draconian laws passed and under consideration by supermajority Republican legislators who would rather remain in power than create legislation that improves the lives of Ohioans.

The worst political scandal in Ohio history involves the Ohio Republican Party’s connection to the H.B. 6 energy bailout bill, which taxed Ohioans $1.3 billion over 10 years to support two aging nuclear power plants and two coal-fired electric plants — one located in Indiana.

FirstEnergy (now Energy Harbor) admitted in a federal trial that it used $61 million in dark money funds to re-elect state legislators running for office and fund a propaganda media plan to kill a citizen referendum against H.B. 6 by falsely claiming the Chinese were behind the citizen referendum.

Then-PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo testifies as an interested party regarding House Bill 6 on May 7, 2019. Source: Ohio Channel.

FirstEnergy also admitted it bribed Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) chair Sam Randazzo with $4.3 million just days before he was appointed to the job by Gov. Mike DeWine to head PUCO.

FirstEnergy was fined $230 million fine and pledged to cooperate in a federal investigation. Neither DeWine nor Randazzo have been charged with a crime. But under Randazzo’s leadership, PUCO effectively gutted the state’s clean energy standards while making it difficult to pass sustainable energy (wind and solar) projects.

While Ohio legislators have rescinded the nuclear bailout portion of H.B. 6, the tax on the two coal plants remains and will jump to about 16 cents per month for residential Ohio households, despite the fact that the coal plants are estimated to lose about $900,000 of taxpayer money by the year 2030.

Lack of democracy hurts people and planet

It is sad to see the Ohio legislature become a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil and gas industry. But it would not be possible without the extreme gerrymandering that has created a Republican supermajority, which ignored three different rulings by the Ohio Supreme Court ordering a redraw of district lines.

In a state whose people are almost evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, the Republican supermajority has repeatedly ignored public opinion to do what they want — whether that means gutting our ballot initiative, imposing draconian restrictions on reproductive rights, or forcing fracking on our public lands.

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