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Ohio judge dismissed appeal, moves forward with fracking on public lands

An Ohio judge dismissed environmental groups’ appeal for an emergency stay to delay the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission's decision to award bids to frack under Ohio's state parks and public lands.

Now, fracking is allowed under 1,004 parcels of publicly owned land, including Salt Fork State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area and Zepernick Wildlife Area, said Melinda Zemper, a steering committee member of Save Ohio Parks. 

Franklin County Ohio Clerk of Courts of the Common Pleas Judge Jaiza Page ruled in favor of the commission and said Save Ohio Parks lacked the statutory authority to challenge the commission’s decisions and the standing to take legal action, Zemper said.

The now-dismissed lawsuit said the process for the decision included an alleged failure to follow the Ohio Revised Code, specifically section ORC 155.33, which outlines eight criteria the commission must follow, and it must allow citizens the opportunity to speak out or have a hearing. 

Earthjustice filed the appeal and emergency stay on behalf of Save Ohio Parks, Ohio Environmental Council, Buckeye Environmental Network and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Zemper said.

According to a previous Post report, fracking 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.

Fracking is planned in 14 designated areas of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, or ODNR, and Ohio Department of Transportation, including Salt Fork State Park, Ohio's largest state park at 20,000 acres, with nine well pads within 395 feet of the park’s border, Zemper said.

The Oil and Gas Land Management Commission selected the highest and best bids to lease mineral rights under select ODNR properties, according to a press release from ODNR.

In each bidder’s lease agreement, the state receives a 12.5% payment, as required by state law, according to the release. Winning bidders also pay additional money to the state as an incentive. The total lease bonuses for ODNR properties gain $59.7 million and extra financial incentives and forms of payment.

Loraine McCosker, a steering committee member of Save Ohio Parks, said Earthjustice initially filed a lawsuit against House Bill 507 in April 2023, challenging its constitutionality due to the multiple amendments added without public input. The lawsuit is ongoing.

House Bill 507 was created in December 2021 to revise the number of poultry chicks sold in lots from six to three. A year later, an amendment was added to the bill to mandate state agencies to allow fracking on Ohio public lands.

Judy Smucker, a steering committee member of Save Ohio Parks, talked about the urgency of stopping fossil fuels to protect the environment and future generations, as it can lead to cancer and birth defects.

According to the National Center for Health Research, or NCHR, fracking involves the use of over 100 chemicals that can disrupt hormones, called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, found in water near fracking sites. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to a range of health issues including obesity, increased risks of infertility, diabetes, and breast, testicular and vaginal cancer.

According to NCHR, living close to fracking sites could affect unborn children as well. A study in Colorado showed that children born to mothers living near fracking sites faced about a 30% higher risk of developing congenital heart defects.

“These are public lands, they’re not industrial lands,” McCosker said. “These lands were set aside for human recreation and protection of those lands to keep them not preserved but conserved.”

Anne Sparks, a member of the steering committee of Save Ohio Parks, noted the poor regulatory oversight throughout the entire process, stressing the potential hazards and spillover effects beyond the park's borders.

Sparks pointed out the potential harm resulting from wastewater leaks from holding pods or transport trucks. The water is stored in injection wells, some of which have been discovered to leak in Athens County.

“The whole environment is basically affected,” Sparks said. “There's no way to say that the impact will not extend beyond the borders of the park.”

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, fracking releases large amounts of methane. Fracked shale gas wells could exhibit methane leakage rates reaching up to 7.9%, making it more harmful to the climate than coal.

“We have to stop fossil fuels,” Smucker said. “Everything you read is that this is what is destroying our environment. We are approaching tipping points … we have to not just reduce emissions; we have to stop the emissions.”

@maggie.amacher 

ma657122@ohio.edu

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