Fracking Under Public Lands

Apr 13, 2024

George Banziger

Letters to the Editor

The Marietta Times

I am outraged by the decision of the Ohio Legislature (both houses) and the governor for mandating fracking, i.e., high-pressure hydraulic fracturing, under Ohio public lands. Let me count the ways…

First of all, the legislation authorizing this desecration of state parks and other public lands, HB 507, was buried (stuffing, if you will), in a poultry bill passed by the legislature last year without any public hearings. Many of these public lands, including Salt Fork State Park the state’s largest park, are in eastern Ohio and have benefitted residents of Washington County for the purposes of swimming, hiking, fishing birding and other outdoor activities. Our representatives in the Ohio statehouse, in other words, have thrown transparency and accountability to the winds.

Another outrage – the wording in this legislation states that oil & gas companies “shall,” not “may,” offer bids to these companies. In other words, it is a mandate, not an option.

In this legislation natural gas is described as “green energy.” This is the fossil fuel that in the long run is over 80 times more consequential as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Another outrage

Groups dedicated to preserving Ohio public lands for the use and pleasure of its citizens, such as Save Ohio Parks, have participated in legal action under the “single-purpose” rule of lawmaking; that is, a piece of legislation should address a single issue and not be tied to something irrelevant like domestic birds. The Oil & Gas Land Management Commission (OGLMC), the group charged by the state, to review the bids for the“se parcels of land, did not even wait for this litigation to be completed to carry out its review of “nominations from oil and gas companies. Another outrage.

Oil and gas companies that have submitted nominations for parcels of public lands are not identified by the OLGMC (yet another outrage), but recently it has been determined that many of these companies, such as Encino Energy of Texas are from out of state. This action reflects a long-standing trend of exploitation of Appalachia, whereby resources of the region are extracted from our lands and profits end up outside our region. Furthermore, those residents, primarily in Appalachian Ohio, will suffer the health risks of fracking (in a 2022 report Physicians for Social Responsibility have documented health problems associated with fracking activities). Must this outrageous pattern of exploitation continue?

Has the OGLMC considered where oil & gas companies will obtain the massive amounts of water required for the fracking process (over one million gallons per well) and what effect it will have on the waters in and around our public lands? More outrage

The OGLMC offers the opportunity for the public to offer comments on these nominations for drilling under public lands, and I have been among the real people of Ohio who have offered comments in opposition to fracking on particular parcels of public lands. Last summer some outstanding journalists from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and other news sources discovered that hundreds of fake comments were generated automatically through a group called the Consumer Energy Alliance, a group associated with oil & gas interests. People who apparently sent these comments did not even know that their names and contact information were used for this malicious purpose. The Ohio Attorney General is investigating this apparent act of fraudulent representation. What is more outrageous–that this scam took place or that the Attorney General has offered no public comments about the progress or results of his investigation?

A continuing outrage directed at the fracking industry and at the waste products associated with this industry is that oil & gas companies are not required to reveal the chemicals that are used in the fracking of shale deposits. Our own Washington County is a leader (a dubious distinction) among Ohio’s counties in the amount of so-called brine waste injected into its lands.

If natural gas resources are as important as its advocates claim to America’s energy independence and to the smooth transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, why don’t we leave a lot of this precious resource in the ground for future use rather than extract it for near-term profit? Those with an interest in this resource should be outraged by the frantic rush for drilling rights in Ohio which is comparable in its frenzy to the 1849 California Gold Rush.

What can be done to address these outrages? Must we be relegated to cursing the darkness in this pattern of exploitation and abuse? The voters of Ohio–and particularly those in eastern Ohio who are most affected by fracking in public lands-can demand to know the positions of candidates for the Ohio Legislature on this important issue. The 136th session of the Ohio General Assembly, most of whom are on the November ballot and take their seats in January 2025, can move to establish transparency in this process of bids, contracts, and injection wells and create some accountability– if voters hold their feet to the fire.