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.

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

 

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