Environmentalists throughout Ohio have long questioned the willingness of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to adequately and willingly regulate the oil and gas industry. A document from the agency that leaked over the weekend will do nothing to quash those concerns.

The 10-page memo describes ways in which ODNR could work to promote oil and gas drilling in state parks and counter what it calls “zealous resistance” from “skilled propagandists,” including State Reps Nikki Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown), the Ohio Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The draft communications plan, dated August 20, 2012, outlines a detailed plan to support the implementation of House Bill 133, which opened up state parks to oil and gas drilling for the first time. The bill, which sailed through the GOP-controlled Statehouse, calls for the creation of a five-member Oil and Gas Leasing Commission; the body would be chaired by an ODNR official and include four other gubernatorial appointees. To date, the Commission remains moribund, as Governor Kasich has yet to make a single appointment more than a year after leasing was scheduled to begin.

ODNR discusses plans to begin drilling in two state parks and the Sunfish Creek State Forest in Monroe County. In order to counter opposition from “’eco-left’ pressure groups,” the document calls for the administration to coordinate with a group of like-minded allies, including the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, Halliburton, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and JobsOhio.

Astonishingly, the document repeatedly claims that the tax revenues generated from oil and gas leases would actually be good for the environment. Using language that would shock even George Orwell, the report says that the program “will bring much needed improvements to our parks, including…more environmental protections.” If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

Spokesmen for the Governor’s office and ODNR denied being familiar with the plan. However, an email released today shows that showed Wayne Struble, the Governor’s Director of Policy, invited no fewer than eight members of the Governor’s inner circle to discuss the plan. The email was also dated 8/20/2012. Among those invited to the discussion were Chief of Staff Beth Hansen and Craig Butler, whom Kasich recently appointed to head the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The Ohio Sierra Club, which obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request, quickly jumped on it.

In a press release, Conservation Program Coordinator Brian Kunkemoeller said, “This is an unprecedented collusion between oil and gas companies and the agencies that regulate them. This isn’t just bad news for our parks and forests, its bad news for our democracy.”

While the document displays a startling collusion between the fossil fuel industry and the agency that’s supposed to regulate it, one should expect little more from the Kasich administration and its allies in the Statehouse. The Ohio GOP has devolved into little more than a mouthpiece for the industry at this point.

Just last month, Tony Stewart, the president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, told the Dispatch\ that it “came up with the methodology” behind HB 375, the GOP bill to rewrite Ohio’s tax laws for the industry. The bill, which makes Gov. Kasich’s original proposal look downright progressive, guarantees that Ohio would continue to give away its natural resources for pennies on the dollar.

Despite the inherent risks associated with fracking, the Ohio GOP seems far more interested in colluding with the industry that protecting the health and well-being of its constituents and the environment of our state. The state has bent over backwards to import fracking wastewater from Pennsylvania – trucking in more than 100 million gallons in 2011 alone – despite the fact that injection wells have caused more than 100 earthquakes near Youngstown. ODNR also allows fracking companies to dispose their waste, which can contain the radioactive element radium, in municipal dumps; the Ohio Environmental Council has labeled this practice “dump and glow.”

Additionally, until the Ohio EPA finally backtracked last fall, Ohio law exempted oil and gas companies from key provisions of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), which Congress passed after the horrific Bhopal disaster in 1986.

EPCRA, one of the most important environmental laws in American history, requires companies that release toxic chemicals to report this information to local emergency planning committees (LEPCs). For 12 years, Ohio allowed fracking companies to bypass this requirement. Because of this decision, anytime a fracking well exploded (which has happened  far too many times already ), first responders could not learn whether the well contained toxic chemicals that could directly harm them or members of the surrounding community.

Unfortunately, given its track record, I can hardly say that I’m surprised by ODNR’s actions. I can only hope this will shake Ohioans out of their false sense of security and become a call to action. Our elected representatives have sold the reins of power to their fossil fuel benefactors, and we need to take them back.


This post was authored by a friend of the blog with extensive experience in Ohio’s environmental issues

  • SlapFat

    Poisoning the well has been a feature of the Kasich administration since they came to power in 2011.

  • jr6020

    And RM informed us tonight about the hundreds of small EQs in Oklahoma this past week- no doubt the result of tracking and injection wells (sound familiar?)..Will the voters ever wake up to Kasich and his radical right agenda: RTW, drastic funding to Public schools and local governments, secrecy laws to protect “RobsOhio” of any meaningful accountability, weakening Ohio EPA enforcement, and no doubt much more others can feel free to add to this list…And all the while the state’s major Rags (namely, the CD and PD) cheering this guy on…Folks, stay home again like you did in 2010 and soon this state will not be livable…James, Columbus

  • Think.

    John Kasich IS NOT the moderate nice guy that the media has been trying to dupe voters into believing. Remember in November…

  • Think.

    Stacked nonpartisan state agencies with like-minded partisan members (State Board of Education, Ohio EPA, ODNR), continued attempts at voter suppression, increased funding to charter schools, decreased sensible gun control, signed radical women’s health legislation while surrounded by a group of old white men, promoted the model legislation of ALEC…

  • Dennis Hanley

    Feel free to attack Kasich on his lies about the office knowing about the plan. BUT go take a look at ODNR’s mission statement: it has always included “responsible use” of fossil fuels and their extraction. This is not unique to Kasich; it is a mission embraced by all recent Governors. The real fight should focus on what the ODNR mission is. BTW, the plan’s arguments about bringing economic prosperity to eastern Ohio may be overstated but the enviro community has never demonstrated serious concern about the economic plight of that part of the state.

  • Tim

    First, yes it is true that ODNR is responsible for both regulating and promoting responsible use of the state’s natural resources. They’re not inherently incompatible, but this dual mandate frequently leads to conflicts of interest. Look at USDA trying to discuss healthy eating while simultaneously promoting increased consumption of meat and dairy, or the Bureau of Land Management overseeing proper land use while selling coal from federal lands for 1/100 the market value. But, as ODNR openly admits in the document, the proposal would “blur public perception of ODNR’s regulatory role in oil and gas.” It’s completely valid for Ohioans to question the commitment of this agency to regulate the industry given the revolving door between the two sectors and the Kasich administration’s track record on environmental issues (see its pushing out George Elmaraghy for upsetting Bob Murray).

    Secondly, your accusation that environmentalists have shown no “serious concern” about the well-being of the people in Appalachia is both inaccurate and insulting. There exists a wide array of environmental and social justice organizations working on the front lines to address the needs of people living in the region. Environmentalists have consistently demonstrated a concern about the manner in which the fossil fuel industry keeps people in Appalachia dependent upon them while simultaneously trapping them in poverty and destroying their environment. 22% of all streams in West Virginia have been severely degraded due to pollution from mountaintop removal mining. A recent NIH study concluded that children born to mothers who live near oil & gas wells are 30% more likely to suffer from birth defects. Moreover, a 2011 study found that Appalachian communities living near mining sites had significantly higher mortality rates, infant mortality rates, and poverty rates than other communities.

    Also, spare me the claims of a jobs boom in Southeastern Ohio. The industry consistently inflates the number of jobs it has created and will create in the region. Last year, it claimed that fracking produced 40,000 jobs in Ohio during 2012 alone; in reality, PolitiFact found that there was a total of 11,569 jobs in the entire industry. And counties with fracking saw jobs increase by all of 0.1% more than counties without it.

    Compare that to renewable energy, which is booming in the state. Solar industry employment grew by 31% during 2013 in Ohio, reaching 3,800 jobs; that’s 1/3 as many jobs as the oil/gas industry, which has existed in Ohio since the mid-19th century. Moreover, if you look at BLS numbers for the green jobs industry, Ohio ranked 5th with 137,143 total jobs in 2011. And renewables/energy efficiency are just beginning to ramp up in this state. Ohio’s renewable portfolio standard will continue to promote job growth in this area.

    Thirdly, if the Ohio GOP was so concerned about the well-being of the communities living in areas with shale gas, they might try actually investing in them. Those communities on the front lines of resource extraction are the ones most likely to suffer the industry’s deleterious effects. Yet, if you look at the severance tax proposals from Kasich and the House GOP (HB 375), they fail to set aside a dime for these communities. Instead, the bills would effectively allow all the tax revenues from oil & gas drilling to accrue to state coffers and leave local municipalities with the bill. Sounds a lot like Kasich’s plan to balance the state budget, no?

  • Fieldkorn

    Dennis, the key word is responsible… The idea of drilling for fossil fuels on state park and forest lands could easily fall short of that criteria, particularly if the royalties are either less than the going rate or (and this scenario is extremely likely) the legislature decides to cut GRF money to the ODNR under the premise that the agency is getting funding from other sources.. And the concern of excessive noise, smell and disturbance impacting parks visitors and forest users cannot be minimized but has to be factored into the equation. Alas, unless you are one of us you are against us has long been the mantra of the Kasich Administration…. Further his henchmen and henchwomen have been demonstrating their boss’s and their own arrogance not only by the revelations contained within the 10-page memo but through their follow-up statements.. Yes, southeast Ohio needs economic development and yes that should include fossil fuel exploration but the key is “responsible,” and unfortunately Kasich and Co. have demonstrated time again they are anything but responsible unless it is in the administration’s political advantage to be so…

  • Think.

    Renewable energy is doing very well for the people of Ohio, but Senator Bill Seitz is busy attacking it again. Ohioans fought against diminishing renewable energy standards with SB 58, so he temporarily dropped the initiative in December. Now he’s back with SB 34, and this bill is even worse. The guy’s got a lot of nerve!

  • Dennis Hanley

    Tim, the inherent conflict in ODNR’s mission was exactly my point. Sorry if that was not clear. You are on target: the debate has to be around how DNR can protect natural resources while simultaneously promoting their exploitation. My point was that this is not a partisan issue–both Democrat and Republican governors have avoided the inherent conflict.

    Yes, many environmental organizations decry the price paid by people who live in areas where resources are extracted. But very few do anything to propose economic development strategies that democratize economic prosperity in those regions. And suggesting that “green jobs” are the solution so far is largely pie in the sky for those regions. No questions that green jobs are having a positive impact on the Ohio economy and at a level not recognized by Kasich or his allies. But most of those jobs are not in southeast Ohio; some are; more could be but that would demand a targeted economic development strategy. Neither party nor any major statewide enviro organization has proposed such an approach with real detail.

    No argument on the lack of GOP concern for those folks or their economic well being. The severance tax proposal is indeed a fraud that benefits only the oil/gas industry.

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