Appalachian Basin

Lawmakers Take Note: Environmental Groups Fundraising Off Ohio’s State Parks Bill in Efforts to Ban Fracking

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The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) sent fundraising emails out last week, urging donations to “secure even stronger fracking protections for Ohio communities.” The group claimed “victory” over what they called “a scheme by the oil and gas industry to open Ohio’s beautiful state parks and forests to fracking”.

OEC never actually identifies what action led to their supposed victory, but it seems likely they’re referring to an amendment to the Ohio House Bill 8 (HB 8) entitled “Oil and gas-unit operation/valuing reserves-method,” which bans surface disruption in state forests. The bill itself, however, would speed up considerations by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for unitizations—agreements by property owners who want to join together to develop oil and natural gas on their land. In other words, HB 8 would allow development to occur under state lands but the amendment stipulates that the well pad cannot be actually located on the surface of state lands. Rep. Sean O’Brien (D-Bazetta) stated:

“HB 8… explicitly states … that state parks may not be included in the unitization process and that there may be no surface disruption in state forests. This will help ensure that future generations of Ohioans will continue to be able to enjoy the incredible nature areas our state has to offer while also easing the extraction of valuable oil and gas resources from our local shale plays.”

It’s interesting that OEC is taking a victory lap not only because it had nothing to do with the amendment, but most importantly, because the group has testified against this very bill.

That leads to the obvious question: why would the OEC celebrate an amendment to a bill they are vehemently against?

Based OEC’s email, which explains donations will be matched by an anonymous OEC member and used to “secure even stronger fracking protections for Ohio communities,” OEC appears to be using this amendment as part of a strategy to raise money for their efforts to ban fracking in Ohio, not just in state parks. Unlike the OEC’s last email blast, which led supporters to a campaign site to ban fracking, the end game of this particular political fundraising email is much more cryptic.

Activists protesting HB 8 have failed twice in their efforts to get people to turn out to their events. At the most recent protest in Columbus, the gathering was so sparse it inspired headlines like, “Small Turn-Out for Protest Against Ohio Drilling.” At the protest, activists were encouraging lawmakers to kill HB 8, as they claim it makes it easier to drill for oil and gas on state-owned land. Alison Auciello, the Ohio organizer for Food & Water Watch was on hand to provide this comment:

“Enough is enough. We are not seeing the promises come to fruition with this industry. What we’ve seen are accidents, leaks, spills. We’ve seen manmade earthquakes… They’re happening almost on a daily basis, and now the state wants to fast-track fracking on our state lands.”

The handful of activists who decided to protest HB 8 have consistently been among the vocal few in the state, as is evident by the fact that the bill passed the House in March on a unanimous vote (96-0), with Democrats and Republicans supporting it. The bill now is under deliberation in the Ohio state Senate.

This is a fine example of the strategy in place by environmental lobbying groups, like the OEC. While they claim to fight for more stringent regulations of the oil and gas industry, that’s not actually what their intent is or what they are lobbying for in Columbus. Similar to the debate over fracking in state parks, these groups use bait-and-switch tactics with the ultimate goal of banning all oil and gas development.

As EID reported last week, this same group is on the war path to distort proposed language of Ohio’s capturing of information to comply with federal statute found under the Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA). In fact the OEC’s fundraising email blast added that donations would be used to support that effort as well. So whether the issue of the day is state parks, EPCRA, setback requirements, or a host of other issues that environmental activist are selling as “protecting health” or “closing loopholes”, they are in fact a campaign to achieve a “de facto” ban of hydraulic fracturing through different means. HB 8 and the tactics used by the OEC with regard to drilling on state lands is also a great example of the same strategies used nationwide.

As a reminder, polls consistently show the American public strongly supports increased U.S. energy development, making these campaigns an uphill climb at best. However, with misleading tactics like these, it’s easy to see how even reasonable lawmakers and the public at large may be deceived by deceptive campaigns of what are actually anti-fracking lobbying groups, like the OEC.

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