Committee Moves Oil And Gas Bill, Adds Protections For State Parks
A unanimous House committee advanced oil and gas legislation Tuesday after amending the bill to allay Democrats' concerns that it could open the door to fracking in state parks and other public lands. Prior to reporting the measure (HB 8), the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee adopted an amendment from ranking minority member Rep. Sean O'Brien (D-Brookfield), who said it would prevent "unitization" of state parks and prohibit any surface impacts to state forest lands from nearby drilling. The proposal, which is one of House Republicans' priority bills, is set for a vote on the House floor Wednesday. The bill would impose a deadline for the Department of Natural Resources to rule on applications for unitization, the process by which oil and gas companies can assemble multiple parcels of land into drilling unit to comply with minimum spacing requirements surrounding a well. The measure would also allow public lands to be included in a drilling unit. The oil and gas industry and some landowners have said that relatively small parcels of state-owned land have prevented unitization orders from being finalized, thereby preventing landowners from exploiting their oil and gas reserves.
Proponents have also criticized ODNR's Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management for inexplicably delaying decisions on unitization requests, even for applications that don't involve public land and have agreement from the owners of far more than the required 65% of land area of a proposed unit. During the hearing, committee members also adopted an amendment that joint sponsor Rep. Christina Hagan said would address the administration's concerns that the allowable timeframe for issuing an order was overly inflexible.
Environmentalists, and some Democrats on the committee, previously opposed the bill out of concern that it would reopen the potential for someone to frack under sensitive public lands from a neighboring property that might comprise only a tiny portion of the overall drilling unit. Rep. David Leland, who voiced such concerns during a previous hearing, said he believed Rep. O'Brien's amendment offers sufficient protections for public land. "I was concerned that it would make state parks subject to fracking. But we've taken care of that," he said in an interview after the hearing. "It's obviously what we wanted last week and I think it's a big victory for the people of Ohio."
Trent Dougherty, of the Ohio Environmental Council, similarly said the revisions adopted in committee would prevent fracking in sensitive state lands. "This will keep industry out of state parks, limit their amount on state forests, keep them out of state nature preserves, and do it in a way that doesn't infringe on the rights of those property owners that have leased," he said.