Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission can – and should – deny fracking in our public lands
Photo by Paul Becker provided by Save Ohio Parks.
By Cathy Cowan Becker, Roxanne Groff, Loraine McCosker, Jenny Morgan, Randi Pokladnik, and Melinda Zemper of Save Ohio Parks
Ohio’s Oil and Gas Land Management Commission met Sept. 18 to discuss the fate of our beloved state parks, wildlife areas, and public lands.
At issue were nine applications, called “lease nominations,” by unidentified oil and gas companies to frack Salt Fork State Park, Wolf Run State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area, and Zepernick Wildlife Area.
Filling the room were Ohio citizens opposed to oil and gas extraction on the public lands we own, use, and want to preserve for future generations.
Many of us held signs that said things like “Deny All Nominations” and “It’s Not Nice to Frack Mother Nature.” We rallied, spoke, and sang songs written for this movement by Ohio singer-songwriter Jenny Morgan.
Doing the work of oil and gas
This meeting took place after thousands of Ohioans had submitted public comments asking the commission to deny nominations to frack our parks — and on the heels of a bombshell report showing that hundreds of pro-fracking comments were apparently fake.
Yet instead of listening to the people, the commissioners seemed mainly to do the work of the fracking industry.
Repeatedly Commission Chair Ryan Richardson said the commission had been directed to open our public lands for oil and gas extraction, that the legislature had made its intent clear, that the commission did not have the authority to deny fracking on public lands.
Here’s the catch — that’s not true. The commission has full legal authority to deny fracking in our state parks, wildlife areas, and public lands — and they should.
The relevant statute, ORC 155.33, says the commission can “approve or disapprove” lease nominations on the basis of nine considerations, including economic benefit, environmental impact, geological impact, impact on visitors, and public comments and objections.
Further, HB 507’s amendment of the statutory language to “shall lease” is no longer in effect. That language reverted back to “may lease” once the administrative rules governing how the commission operates were approved May 28.
Once the commission began taking lease nominations, our all-volunteer group Save Ohio Parks started issuing action alerts that have resulted in more than 3,600 public comments submitted by Ohioans opposed to fracking in our state parks and wildlife areas.
Hundreds of other people independently wrote to the commission to oppose fracking in our public lands, including former First Ladies Hope Taft and Frances Strickland.
Meanwhile, other than two sets of form letters, there were less than a dozen comments in support of fracking our public lands — and as reporting by Jake Zuckerman of the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed, almost 150 people whose names were on the pro-fracking form letters said they did not write them. Most of the others could not be reached.
A public comment process riddled with apparently fraudulent comments undermines democracy in several ways:.
Citizens and policymakers rely on public comments to gauge public sentiment. Fake comments skew public perception and misrepresent true public opinion.
Fake comments dilute and drown out authentic voices in the decision-making process. Real citizens deserve to have their voice heard.
Fake comments can improperly sway policy outcomes if regulatory agencies or elected officials think they are responding to actual public opinion.
Allowing fake comments to stand damages public trust and confidence in government. People lose faith in the process if it is perceived as rigged.
Fake comments enable powerful groups to game the system by artificially manufacturing consent. This undermines principles of good governance.
Did our opinion ever matter?
Given that the chair of the commission deciding the fate of our state parks and wildlife areas has falsely stated several times that the commission cannot deny lease nominations, it appears the outcome of this process was determined before it began.
If the commission had no choice but to allow our parks to be fracked, why did we go through a public commenting process for months, only to ignore the vast majority of the submitted comments?
The fact is, this commission does have a choice. They should listen to the overwhelming majority of Ohioans whose tax dollars pay for our state parks and wildlife areas, and deny all fracking in, near, or under Ohio public lands.
Our 75 state parks belong to the people of Ohio, not one governor, not one transient General Assembly, and certainly not the polluting, out-of-state oil and gas industry that deserves disruption by green energies like wind and solar.
Our public lands make up only 3% of all land in Ohio, and are meant to be oases of protected natural beauty and respite for us and future generations — not casualties to the greed of a destructive, dirty, and already wealthy gas and oil industry.
Cathy Cowan Becker, Roxanne Groff, Loraine McCosker, Jenny Morgan, Randi Pokladnik, and Melinda Zemper are members of the steering committee for Save Ohio Parks, an all-volunteer group of Ohio citizens concerned about fracking in our near our state parks, wildlife areas, and other public lands. Learn more at saveohioparks.org.
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