Fracking pumpjacks. These pieces of equipment are crucial to oil field and fracking operations. Getty Images.
Last week in the Ohio Senate Agriculture committee, Republican members used a measure tied to retail poultry purchases to clear the path for greater oil and gas drilling on public lands. State Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, added the language as part of a series of amendments meant to advance unrelated policy changes.
In his testimony for the underlying measure, Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, remarked the bill is “so simple it only changes one word” in state law. Citing complaints from 4H families, he argued for cutting the minimum purchasing amount of poultry chicks from six to three. He argued kids can only show one turkey in the fair. But to do so they often wind up raising, and then butchering, five more.
Koehler’s humble proposal picked up a set of food safety provisions tied to canning and bottling before passing the Ohio House. The bill got much more complicated, though, after Huffman’s amendments.
The leasing amendment
The oil and gas provisions tacked onto Koehler’s bill attempt to force the hand of the state Oil and Gas Land Management Commission. Lawmakers devised the board during former Gov. John Kasich’s tenure, but Kasich never filled the seats. The commission began work under Gov. Mike DeWine, but they’ve yet to come up with rules for prospective drillers.
The commission website requests public comment on its current lease form by Jan. 13 next year and has a meeting on the calendar Feb. 1.
The amendment directs all state agencies to accept leases on their land until those rules are finalized. Current law stating agencies “may” lease access to their land becomes “shall” lease with the amendment. It directs agencies to offer those leases “in good faith,” and only requires companies demonstrate they’re licensed and insured to go forward.
Sen. Dale Martin, D-Cleveland, spoke up against the changes.
“I know that it’s state property and the state goes about it, but the people in that area use the park and all these different things,” he said. “But I think they’re kind of losing their power on what goes on in that area.”
Committee chair, Sen. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, insisted allowing companies to drill is already part of state law.
“It’s just that the leases are taking literally years to negotiate with the state of Ohio,” Schaffer argued, “And, you know, the minerals aren’t being harvested the way the state law says.”
He added that the leaseholders would only be drilling under state land rather siting equipment on the surface. For someone walking in a park he said, “you wouldn’t know the difference.”
Martin insisted that drilling will change the environment, even if the drilling isn’t visible.
A different amendment classifies natural gas as “green energy.” Others preempt local ordinances against pesticides, provide state licensing exemptions for eBay sellers, and establish standards for food inspectors. The final change gives police in a conservancy district the same rights to tow abandoned vehicles as other departments.
The OEC Action Fund urges the Ohio Senate to VOTE NO on #HB507.
Two amendments were added at the last minute—with no chance for public review—that would redefine natural gas as "green energy" and create a state public lands leasing free-for-all.#OHpol #climatechange pic.twitter.com/FjcwNX7YEI
— OEC Action Fund (@OECActionFund) December 7, 2022
The raft of changes came in what is likely the committee’s final hearing of the year, and just moments before voting to advance the bill out of committee.
No one from the public spoke for or against the changes at the time. Advocacy groups like the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund and Policy Matters Ohio have since begun urging lawmakers to vote the bill down.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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