Opponents appeal decision to allow drilling under Ohio state parks and wildlife areas

Opponents appeal decision to allow drilling under Ohio state parks and wildlife areas

Environmental groups filed an appeal Thursday, challenging recent decisions by an Ohio regulatory commission to allow drilling under a state park and two state wildlife areas.

Those decisions currently call for sections of Salt Fork State Park, Zepernick Wildlife Area and Valley Run Wildlife Area to be leased to the highest and best bidder, with the bidding period set to start in January.

Among other things, the groups say the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission failed to consider all of the factors it was required to weigh under state law. The groups also allege that the commission failed to provide an opportunity for public hearing under state law.

Plans to drill under Ohio state parks and wildlife areas were jump-started earlier this year by House Bill 507, which began as a two-page bill about poultry regulations and grew to more than 80 pages when lawmakers heaped in provisions about natural gas and other unrelated topics last December. Environmental groups challenged the constitutionality of the law earlier this year, and that case is still pending.

The new case appealing the commission’s decisions was filed on Nov. 30 with the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. A notice of appeal was also filed with the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission.

Parties to the appeal include Save Ohio Parks, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Buckeye Environmental Network and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Lawyers at Earthjustice are acting as counsel, and the Ohio Environmental Council also has its own attorneys on the complaint.

What the law says

HB 507 would have required approval of drilling under state-owned lands until the commission adopted a standard lease form and other rules to allow drilling on different parcels.

Now, under the law, Ohio statutory law calls for the commission to consider nine factors, including environmental impacts, effects on visitors or users of state-owned lands, public comments or objections, economic benefits and more. Commission Chair Ryan Richardson also recited those factors in an affidavit filed in the constitutional challenge case.

The opponents’ appeal alleges that the commission failed to duly consider all those factors. The commission also did not allow people attending the meetings to present testimony in opposition to particular proposals.

A mandate?

Even after the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission adopted rules this spring, comments by its members indicated they still viewed HB 507 as a legislative mandate preventing them from rejecting parcel nominations outright.

“We’ve been directed to open these lands up,” Richardson said at a Sept. 18 commission meeting.

In a similar vein, commission member Jim McGregor told the Energy News Network this summer, “we have a mandate from the legislature that says we shall lease public lands for fracking.”

The commission did not discuss all the statutory factors for voting either yes or no at its Nov. 15 meeting. Yet it voted to allow opening up lands under the state park and wildlife areas for bid next quarter. No written opinion explaining the decisions has been posted on the commission’s website.

“The commission is not required to submit a written opinion, and they are not expecting to write one,” said Andy Chow, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, in response to a question by the Energy News Network the next day. “And there is no appeals procedure.”

“The Commission’s refusal to issue a written decision, failure to engage in meaningful discussion of the statutory criteria, and its belief that decisions are not appealable, show a concerning disregard for the process and rigor contemplated by their statutory mandates,” said Megan Hunter, a lawyer for Earthjustice who is representing opponents in the appeal and in the constitutional challenge case.

“As seen in the Commission’s meetings, the Commission did not publicly consider all nine statutory factors prior to opening up Salt Fork State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area, and Zepernick Wildlife Area for oil and gas development. The Commission should be held accountable for this failing,” she added.

Opponents appeal decision to allow drilling under Ohio state parks and wildlife areas is an article from Energy News Network, a nonprofit news service covering the clean energy transition. If you would like to support us please make a donation.

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