Friday, June 17, 2011

Legislature agrees to "drill, baby, drill" on state parks

Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chester Township, stood alone among his Republican colleagues in opposing drilling for oil and gas on state park lands.

The largely party-line vote in the Republican-controlled state Senate did, however, mirror that seen in the also Republican-controlled Ohio House.

In the state Senate, House Bill 133 passed on a 22 to 10 vote with all but one Democratic state senators voting “no.” The House vote was 54 to 41 with two Republicans joining the House Democrats in voting “no” as well.

What the bill will do, says environmentalists, conservationists and sportsmen, is give the Ohio Department of Natural Resources only a minimal voice in how and where drilling will occur on its properties.

Meanwhile, Ohio’s oil and gas industry will get two votes on the bill’s call to establish a five-member Oil and Gas Leasing Commission.

In essence all five of the commission members are political appointees of the governor. In this case that is Ohio Gov. John Kasich who has long sought to open Ohio’s state parks, wildlife areas and forests to fossil fuel extraction.

Exempted, though, are the state’s designated natural areas.

It is believed that Ohio’s oil and gas industry could reap what the environmental community calls “a $3.5 billion jackpot,” returning only one-eighth of one-percent back to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources which is the land’s actual owner in many cases.

Not lost on the conservation-minded community was the legislature’s failure to exclude drilling in Lake Erie. The Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate said that was not needed because existing federal law prohibits such activity.

However, sportsmen note that federal law can be changed, which would clear the only obstacle in the industry’s way for tapping Lake Erie’s bed for oil and natural gas.

“They have put a for-sale sign in front of our state parks, demonstrating again that the only green things they value are dollar bills,” said a thoroughly disappointed Jack Shaner, Deputy Director of the Ohio Environmental Council.

Others within the pro-sportsmen community called it a “sad day” and that the legislature “...shouldn’t plug a hole in the state budget dam with our children’s assets.”

This blog item also appear on The News-Herald's Northern Ohio Politics Blog.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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