(Getty Images illustration).
The commission in charge of leasing mineral rights on state land in Ohio has begun accepting applications. They’ve already received eight proposals, and the commission plans to post the applications once they’ve reviewed them.
A long time coming
Lawmakers set up the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission more than a decade ago. They charged the five-member commission with overseeing the leasing of state land for oil and gas exploration. But then-Governor John Kasich never appointed members to the board.
The commission for the most part languished until lawmakers got to work on a chicken bill late last year.
That proposal began as a humble tweak to the minimum number of poultry livestock Ohioans can purchase. The sponsor, then-state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, wanted to lower the number so kids in 4H didn’t wind up purchasing more animals than they needed. But that measure became the vehicle for a wide range of amendments including one related to oil and gas leasing.
In effect, that provision forced the hand of the land management commission. If no rules for leasing were in place, the law stated, agencies would have to award oil lease contracts in good faith to all comers.
Earlier this year, the commission finalized rules and a standard lease form. In March, environmentalists criticized an earlier version of the lease form which seemingly opened the door to oil and gas companies siting equipment on the surface of state lands. Under the final lease form’s terms, there is a provision that explicitly prohibits companies from building on the surface.
What happens now?
The oil and gas industry is thrilled to see state lands open for business. Ohio Oil and Gas Association President Rob Brundrett described it as “the culmination of over a decade of back and forth with stakeholders of all varieties to create an open, transparent, and fair approach to leasing state owned land.”
He emphasized increasing demand for energy, and argued the industry has a strong safety track record — including from thousands of wells already set up on public land.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, are deeply frustrated. The group Save Our Parks expressed alarm at one proposal from Texas based Encino Energy, first reported by Cleveland.com. That ultimately rejected bid proposed installing 89 fracking wells just outside Salt Fork State Park.
“How is flaring methane and injecting millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the ground compatible with hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, birdwatching, or anything else we do in our state parks?” Save Our Parks organizer Cathy Cowan Baker asked. “It’s not even compatible with basic climate and health.”
“These are public lands,” she added, “paid for and used by the public, and meant to be protected. We oppose the destruction of our most treasured state lands for the profit of extractive polluting industries.”
The commission is in the process of reviewing submissions and plans to post them online soon. But the information they share might leave some disappointed. In order to “encourage the submission of nominations” state law shields all but the location of a proposed lease from public disclosure. Until a selection is made, the bidder’s identity and the cash terms of their proposal will remain hidden.
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