Groups concerned about fracking for oil and gas in Ohio’s state lands filed a lawsuit last week, appealing a commission’s approval of seven nominations to drill under Salt Fork State Park and two wildlife areas, claiming it violated state law.
The Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission approved the nominations at a contentious meeting in November.
In the lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, the groups Save Ohio Parks, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Buckeye Environmental Network and Ohio Environmental Council claim that the commission failed to properly consider the proposals.
State law requires the commission to consider nine factors when deciding whether to approve a nomination to drill under state lands. These include the impact of drilling on the environment, geology, current property uses and economics.
“There are at least four criteria that there was no discussion during the meeting itself for each parcel,” said attorney Megan Hunter of EarthJustice, who represents the groups.
“The commission blatantly violated its own procedures and the law when it voted to open state public lands to the oil and gas industry,” said Nathan Johnson, senior attorney for land and water at the Ohio Environmental Council, in a written statement.
“It failed to publicly consider potential harm fracking will have on our parks and wildlife areas and on the people who enjoy these beloved places. Ohioans deserve better,” he said.
The public comments issue
The groups also say the commission did not adequately consider comments by residents of Ohio or others who use the state lands.
“We do not feel that the owners of this land are being given proper consideration in deciding how it will be used. This rushed and chaotic process will not lead to an outcome that benefits Ohioans, nor the hunters and anglers of Salt Fork and Zepernick and Valley Run,” said Dustin Lindley of the Ohio chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.
One example of that “chaotic process” is the controversy around the public comments. Save Ohio Parks found nearly one hundred comments submitted to the commission by supposedly pro-fracking citizens, who when contacted said they did not knowingly send them. News outlets found an additional 38 disputed public comments.
“The commission disregarded all of this evidence and voted to frack our beloved parks and wildlife areas anyway,” said Cathy Cowan Becker of Save Ohio Parks, noting that citizens were not allowed to speak at commission meetings.
The Ohio Attorney General’s office has said it is investigating the questionable public comments.
The commission has until late December to respond to the lawsuit in court.
In a lawsuit filed last spring, environmental groups claim the law expediting oil and gas leases under state lands, itself, was unconstitutionally approved by the state legislature last December. That case is also being considered by the Franklin County court.
Meanwhile, leases in Salt Fork and the wildlife areas are expected to go out for bid in January.