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Parks and wrecking creation

June 15, 2011 - Rob Weaver
Two articles arrived via the state news wire Wednesday that at first seemed tangentially related. But an e-mail alert about the Ohio Senate schedule indicated the two do intersect.

One article, by The Associated Press, states the state senate voted 22-10 to approve a plan to open state-owned land -- including parks -- to oil and gas drilling. The bill would establish a commission to oversee oil and gas leasing.

The House previously passed a similar measure, so any differences between the two would have to be ironed out before the legislation could be sent to the governor for his signature.

Meanwhile, another story via The AP concerns the formation of the Ohio Shale Coalition, which is to promote the economic benefits of hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas drilling technique useful in extracting natural gas trapped in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations beneath Ohio.

The technique, also known as “fracking,” involves injecting water into the shale to break loose gas deposits. The term sounds like a dirty word, and some environmentalists would agree.

Thus, the new coalition says some universities in Ohio are to conduct an economic impact study. It doesn’t take a professor to realize the economic boost that can be derived from the jobs and cheap energy that would result from the fracking business.

What ties these stories together is the House version of the bill mentioned earlier. House Bill 133 would allow energy exploration on state property. According to the Senate e-mail, “HB 133 would create a commission to oversee the leasing of state-owned land for use in Utica, Marcellus Shale and conventional sandstone development (different rock layers that can contain natural gas). The State of Ohio is currently the largest landowner in the state, and leasing property for energy exploration could not only provide needed revenue for state parks but also jobs, economic development opportunities and lower energy prices.”

Supporters of the bill say Ohio -- by that, I hope they mean state parks and preserves -- would benefit from leasing fees and royalties. Note that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a backlog of more than a half-billion dollars in capital improvement projects. That work isn’t going to be accomplished through general fund revenues or user fees.

Opponents rightly worry about the impact of drilling on the state’s natural areas and the impact of fracking on groundwater, a situation in which we’d be throwing out the baby AND the bathwater.

But national interests also come into play in regards to extracting gas from shale formations. An inexpensive, abundant sources of domestic energy -- energy which could directly or indirectly power our beloved automobiles -- may lie beneath parts of Ohio and other states. But we shouldn’t sacrifice natural vistas and clean water in order to pursue the resource.


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