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Published: Sunday, 3/20/2011

Oil, gas rigs in state parks? Come on, Guv

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS COLUMNIST

"If the image of an oil or gas well rearing its ugly head at Maumee Bay State Park — or any state park, public hunting area, wildlife preserve, forest, or scenic-river access — is irksome to you, get the attention of your state senator and state representative. Soon."

Oh, wait. I wrote that way back in June, 2009. Why possibly am I repeating myself? It is because Ohio's governors and state lawmakers do not learn, regardless of political stripe.

Gov. John Kasich and his cheerleading professional oil and gas man — er, natural resources director David Mustine think that poking holes in our state parks with unsightly drilling rigs is a great way to help plug $8 billion worth of holes in a $55.5 billion, two-year state budget.

Their PR line says that parks drilling can earn the state as much as maybe $30 million a year in natural gas revenue. Yeah, $30 mill against $8 bill is like trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a squirt-gun. But every drop fills the water bucket, eh?

Except this bucket is full of holes.Even $30 million a year doesn't come close to addressing the neglected, massive backlog of repairs needed for state parks — on the order of $560 million. Let alone fix the budget.

For decades our politicians have kicked the proverbial can down the road and done nothing substantive about fixing budget or parks – the latter part of our natural heritage, a perpetual public trust. They prefer to continually short-sheet parks in the state budget. They love to promise something for nothing. No new taxes? Just borrow and spend. That oft-abused, easy-money solution is why we are where we are.

Current politicos will be long gone, their limited terms expired, when the bills come due in terms of environmental loss and damage. Speaking of which, a new X-factor has entered the natural gas drilling equation since 2009 and the last episode of the proposed parks-drilling soap opera. Hydrofracking.

Yeah, it almost sounds like an obscenity. But it's the sexy new lady in the gas fields. The longer term for it sounds less offensive if more confusing — high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. It means injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressure to break up rock formations and release all that clean-burning natural gas, nature's miracle fuel that we so admittedly covet.

Well, ‘fracking a single well can produce millions of gallons of wastewater tainted with corrosive salts, carcinogens such as benzene, and even radioactive radium that occurs naturally thousands of feet underneath the surface. Where we gonna put that stuff? In our rivers? What happens to our rural drinking water wells? They gonna be poisoned?

So this simple smash-and-grab parks drilling plan isn't so simple. At least if you care about the long-term public good and the beauty of parks, which by their mission are a place for people and unspoiled nature to come together.

Sacrificing long-term public good for short-term political gain never has been a sound governing principle. But politicians go for it like low-hanging fruit every time.

Yep, the budget crisis is a biggie. It did not happen overnight, and it will not get fixed overnight without sacrifice from every segment of Ohio society. But that does not mean we throw babies out with the bath water either.

Drilling is ugly no matter how smooth-tongued the snake-oil salesman promoting it. Forget any "environmentally sensitive drilling" epistle. It is a carnie pitch.

Yes some oil and gas wells already exist on state lands; they were inherited with the acquisitions. That does not justify more drilling. I've been around plenty of existing wells on both public and private land, and they all stink; they all are messy, and some of them leak. I guess it's not enough that the 94 percent of Ohio that is privately owned can be poked and prodded almost at will.

Contrast all this with the smiley-face, good-news image projected by a patch of gorgeous, colorful wildflowers bespeckled with golden sunshine. Presumably it was captured at one of Ohio's 74 state parks. It graces the cover of the just-arrived, spring/summer, 2011, edition of Ohio State Parks, the lavish, glossy, full-color promotional magazine aimed at continuing the public love affair with parks.

Nary a mention of the falling-down conditions from ongoing lack of substantial maintenance revenue in this era of do more with less. And nary a mention of drill rigs looming on the horizon. Just come and play in state parks La-La Land.

The issue of drilling further is complicated by problems with private ownership of mineral rights on some lands where Ohio may only hold the surface rights. Some mineral rights on state lands even may be tangled up with federal government claims. So drilling promises to be not only an environmental boondoggle, but a legal one as well.

Here's an idea: Offset any destruction of underground water supplies or stream pollution caused by hydrofracking by bottling and selling Lake Erie water. We got lots.

We could truck bottled water inland to replace tainted water supplies on drilled-up, hydrofracked lands, even set up bottled water concession stands in drill-bespoiled parks too. Think of the money to plug the state budget.

Oh, but Lake Erie is struggling with burgeoning blooms of toxic blue-green algae from uncontrolled farm fertilizer runoff and unfinished urban sewer projects. This while Kasich and Company want to save more money by lessening state government environmental and health oversight. Oh, and maybe other Great Lakes states and Ontario won't like us helping ourselves to "their" water. Oops.

Contact Steve Pollick at: spollick@theblade.com or 419-724-6068



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