Gov. John Kasich pledges to support the oil and gas industry's plans for an exploration boom in Ohio only if they're done right. To ensure that, his administration needs to allocate adequate revenue to a state office that provides vital engineering and mapping services.
The Ohio Geological Survey, a division of the state Department of Natural Resources, compiles data on oil and gas deposits, earthquakes, and waste-injection wells. Since 2010, it has ceased to get money from the state's general fund, making do instead with an array of grants and loans.
A decade ago, general-revenue funding accounted for three-fifths of the survey's budget. That funding needs to be restored as the state prepares for an anticipated sharp increase in the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract gas and oil from Ohio's shale deposits. That surge is expected to start next year, hit its stride in 2014, then continue for another 20 or 30 years.
The governor's administration says the geological survey will have a budget of $2.6 million for fiscal year 2013, considerably less than its peak budget of $3.3 million. The progressive advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio says it has identified less than $1.4 million in funding.
An Ohio DNR spokesman said the department has hired a seismologist and other staff, plans to add more geologists, and has funding for inspections and monitoring. That's a good start, but the survey still must be adequately funded before the fracking boom hits: Last March, a report connected a dozen earthquakes in the Youngstown area to underground injection of waste fluids.
The administration has an agreement in place to borrow from the state's office of management and budget if the survey needs stopgap funding. It is counting on fees it collects on drilling to help keep up with expanded survey activity.
But the state needs to pick up the funding pace, so that the survey is in a position to do its job better before the fracking rush starts. That means predicable general-fund revenue, not a continued patchwork approach.
Fracking has been around for years, but more-recent advances in drilling techniques offer the potential of unlocking substantial reserves of oil and gas across Ohio. The governor's office knows it's a new game. Now it must match its rhetoric with dollars to protect Ohio's land, rivers, and streams.