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Published: Thursday, 5/26/2011

Ohio House OKs drilling in parks

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Tempers flared Wednesday as the Ohio House voted 54-41 to open parks, forests, and other state-controlled lands to potential oil and gas drilling as a means of raising cash.

“What we should be doing is embracing the use of oil and gas that’s right here in our state,’’ said Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima). “... If we embrace that, we’re in a position economically to return to the power that we were roughly in the last part of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. ... If this gas boom takes off like we understand it is, there aren’t going to be enough hotels, houses, and restaurants to handle all the people coming into this state.’’

Republicans reacted angrily, however, when some Democrats suggested that Wednesday’s vote was more about campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry than about whittling away at a half-billion-dollar backlog in capital projects at state parks.

Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) called the plan a “scorched Earth revenue scheme.’’

“Our picture-perfect parks in Ohio may certainly … be turned into picture-perfect toxic wastelands,’’ she said. “That’s what’s happening across the United States. We’re ahead of the technology … I don’t think we’re that desperate in the state of Ohio to come up with a revenue scheme this risky.’’

The House, solely with Republican votes, sent House Bill 133 to the Senate. Two GOP members, Reps. Marlene Anielski (R., Walton Hills) and Richard Hollington (R., Chagin Falls), broke ranks to join all Democrats in opposition.

The bill would open parks, forests, and other state-controlled lands, including public university and college property, to potential drilling for oil and natural gas.

Before passing the bill, the chamber unanimously approved an amendment offered by Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) that specifically removed nature preserves from the list for potential rigs. He said, however, that it was unlikely they would have been targets of drilling under current terms of the bill.

The Republican majority again rejected an attempt to restore language that had been struck from the original bill that would also have exempted the U.S. side of Lake Erie from drilling.

“If this bill passes the Senate without legislative protections for Lake Erie, I challenge the governor to honor the crucial promise he made to the people of the district that I represent that he would not tolerate drilling in Lake Erie and make good on that pledge by vetoing this legislation,’’ said Rep. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky).

Rep. Kristina Roegner (R., Hudson), however, urged rejection of the amendment, which would have added an extra layer of protection for Lake Erie on top of an existing federal ban on drilling.

“It would be foolish and rather short-sighted for this state to prohibit future generations of the possibility of even considering tapping into what equates to 50 percent of Ohio’s reserve potential,’’ she said. “But for now, the United States will just continue to just let the Canadians enjoy the benefits from Lake Erie.’’

The state figures it could reap as much as $9 million from oil and gas leases alone during the first year, not counting ongoing royalties of at least 12.5 percent of the revenue generated from the wells’ production.

About two-thirds of state lands, however, are unlikely to be classified as eligible for drilling because of deed restrictions, federal encumbrances, and the fact that Ohio doesn’t own the mineral rights.

Contact Jim Provance at:
jprovance@theblade.com,
or 614-221-0496.



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