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Published: Friday, 4/22/2011

Timetable sought on vote to drill oil in parks


One of Ohio's largest environmental groups is imploring state legislators to say how they'll vote soon on the Kasich administration's controversial plan to open state parks to oil drilling.

The Ohio Environmental Council, with help from the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, is using the one-year anniversary of BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster to campaign against the plan.

Trent Dougherty, the council's chief attorney and its legal affairs director, said the public has a right to know soon if their elected officials will "protect state parks or plunder them."

"People come to places like this to relax, not be in an industrial park," Mr. Dougherty said Thursday a few feet from Maumee Bay State Park's Lake Erie beach. "Do you want to risk places like this that are gateways to Lake Erie?"

Although the environmental council has long studied Ohio House and Senate voting records, it does not know how many individual members will vote on this issue, Mr. Dougherty said.

Bills were submitted just before the Ohio General Assembly's spring recess, which ends in early May.

State Rep. Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township) is a co-sponsor of the House bill, Mr. Dougherty said.

His Maumee Bay State Park news conference was one of eight hosted by the council and other environmental activists across the state Thursday.

Activists at each said they want the parks off-limits from hydraulic fracturing, a process known as "fracking," which involves blasting chemical-laced water into the ground to get to gas deposits.

Mr. Kasich wore hiking shoes, a bomber jacket, and jeans to an unrelated news conference. He said he was headed to visit a possible fracking site in northern Ohio.

Proposed legislation would open state forests, parks, and wildlife areas to drilling, reaping an estimated $9 million in lease revenue for the state.

Tom Stewart, Ohio Oil & Gas Association executive vice president, predicted passage of the legislation.

In a telephone interview with The Blade, Mr. Stewart said Ohio should follow the lead of Michigan, which has leased state-owned property for oil exploration for years. Revenue goes into a trust fund that helps support operations and improvements of Michigan state parks.

"We call it the Ohio self-help bill. Let's do something to help ourselves instead of relying on taxpayers for everything," Mr. Stewart said. "When the drilling's done and the revenue starts, it's going to enhance the park experience."

He said Ohio's time has come for drilling on state-owned land because the state is having a "harder time taking care of those parks."

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

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