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Fracking now allowed in Ohio state parks, wildlife areas

The Oil and Gas Land Management Commission declared its decision to allow fracking in Ohio state parks and wildlife areas owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or ODNR, on Nov. 15.

The commission allowed oil and gas development underneath Salt Fork State Park and two other state-owned wildlife areas – Valley Run Wildlife Area and Zepernick Wildlife Area

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is the process of fracturing underground bedrock and injecting high-pressure fluid into the rock formations. The high-pressure fluid creates cracks in the bedrock formations for natural gas, oil and brine to flow through. 

The approval of fracking in state parks has raised concerns among environmentalists and Ohio communities.

In May 2011, the Ohio legislature passed House Bill 133, creating the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission to oversee the leasing of public land for oil and gas extraction.

The commission, established under former Gov. John Kasich, held its first meeting in November 2019 under incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine.

In December 2021, House Bill 507 was created to revise the number of poultry chicks sold in lots from six to three.

However, a year later, an amendment was added to HB507 that mandated state agencies to allow fracking on Ohio public lands, according to Save Ohio Parks. 

Save Ohio Parks, a volunteer group of Ohioans, aims to educate the public about the dangerous effects of fracking and the reliance on fossil fuels.

Roxanne Groff, a committee member of Save Ohio Parks, said the bill’s wording regarding the allowance of fracking was changed to read “Public lands may be leased,” to “Shall be leased.” She said this mandate and its wording sparked frustration among park supporters, which, in turn, grew the Save Ohio Parks campaign. 

Loraine McCosker started the campaign initiative for Save Ohio Parks, and she discussed how fracking worsens the air quality and affects the health of people living in nearby communities. 

“It's just a health and an environmental catastrophe,” she said.

According to the Yale Climate Connections, fracking techniques may take place in populated areas and contaminate drinking water.

However, water intensity is lower for fracking than other fossil fuels and nuclear energy sources, using two, three and 10 times less water per unit. Also, relying on natural gas has greater public health benefits than using coal, according to the website. 

The statute ORC 155.33 states the commission can approve or disapprove of nine criteria, including economic benefit, environmental impact, geological impact, impact on visitors and public comments and objections.

McCosker said the commission failed to address the nine considerations. 

Groff said the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission received 5,000 comments, including peer-reviewed health and environmental studies, outlining the harmful effects of fracking, and the side in favor of fracking submitted no data to support the economic benefits of it.

Caden Hibbs, Ohio University’s Student Senate environmental affairs commissioner, said there is money made in fracking and it can lead to economic growth in the short term, but he said the economic benefits are not distributed equally.

“I think that there are definitely benefits if you're thinking more short term, less sustainable aspect, but to me, obviously, those fail in comparison to the numerous negative effects,” he said.

Hibbs said that environmental degradation and pollution specifically affect marginalized groups to a higher extent.

“With an issue like fracking, seeing it, people understanding it more just comes from their own experience,” he said. “They might not see from themselves the kind of issues of fracking, but there are plenty of marginalized communities … who have to deal with these negative effects.”

Groff said there is an environmental injustice regarding fracking. She said fracking is burdening vulnerable communities in the Appalachian region, which is one of the poorest regions in the state. 

“These are our public lands,“ McCosker said. "These are for future generations. They're not for industrial processes, but for future generations (and) for the people right now … (and) for the species that depend on them. With fracking, it has a huge, huge footprint."


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