Governor-elect John Kasich's pick to oversee the Ohio Department of Natural Resources may be greasing the dreams of the state's oil and gas industry but it hasn't elicited a gusher of hope from environmentalists.
Selected as the Natural Resources Department's new director is David Mustine, a former top executive of the Columbus-based AEP, an electric utility firm that at one time conducted strip mining in southeast Ohio. For the past two years Mustine has been the vice president of an oil and gas service firm in the oil-rich Mideast nation of United Arab Emirates.
Also selected by Kasich is Scott Zody as the Department's assistant director. Zody is a 20-year state government employee who held positions in the administrations of both former Republican governors George Voinovich and Bob Taft.
In naming Mustine, Kasich said "...This sends a message to the business community that Ohio is open for business," praising his appointee's fossil fuel and energy development background.
Reacting with concern about the Mustine nomination is Jack Shaner, director of public affairs for the Ohio Environmental Council.
"We would hope the Kasich Administration would respect first and foremost the conservation and not exploitation of our natural resources," Shaner said. "We know from the incident in Geauga County that drilling for natural gas can contaminate water wells; with the need for safety first and then development. With that being said we are concerned. At least I'll give Kasich an 'A' for transparency; he is what he advertises himself - business first."
Shaner did say, however, that the appointment of Zody is a plus for Ohio's environmental community.
"Scott is a solid, sincere conservationist and I find his appointment encouraging," Shaner said.
Cheryl Johncox, interim executive director of the Buckeye Forest Council, said governor-elect Kaisch and ODNR director-designate Mustine would do a disservice to Ohioans if they were to promote the expansion of fossil fuel exploration where it would pose a risk to the environment.
Such a policy shift also would put at risk the opportunity for Ohioans to enjoy their state parks uncluttered by active oil wells or natural gas exploration, Johncox said.
"We are concerned though we haven't had a chance to explore his background completely," Johncox said. "We thought we had put to bed in the last legislature the idea of drilling for oil and gas in our state parks and perhaps even Lake Erie. People aren't able to travel far to recreate and they want their state parks to be free of oil and gas drilling. Those things have environmental consequences."
State Sen. Tim Grendell, (R-Bainbridge Township), said he is looking forward to communicating with the ODNR director-designate but wants to ensure that natural gas drilling in suburban and urban areas is done responsibly and with local input.
"I also look forward to speaking with him about the lakefront property owners' issue and I hope he is more respectful of their rights than the last director was," Grendell said.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn