State panel approves oil and gas fracking in state park, two wildlife areas

Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission approved some requests, denied others in “chaotic” meeting

The Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission on Wednesday approved the use of the fracking mining technique at three state wildlife areas and parks in eastern Ohio, while rejecting multiple other similar requests.

In a meeting filled with vocal protests, OGLMC approved fracking on sites located at Valley Run Wildlife Area in Carroll County, Zepernick Wildlife Area in Columbiana County; and parts of Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County, according to Andy Chow, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesman.

However, the commission denied a request for Wolf Run State Park, agricultural research property owned by The Ohio State University and property owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation, all located in Noble County. At Salt Fork State Park, three parcels were approved for fracking and two were denied, Chow said.

The nomination of the approved properties will now go to the bidding process in the next calendar quarter and companies will have 30 days to submit a bid from the time it is posted, according to Chow.

About 100 people protested at the meeting, some of them standing in front of the commission members with a large sign, while others sang and chanted, at one point causing a recess in the meeting.

Fracking, technically known as hydraulic fracturing, is the process of freeing methane, oil and gas reserves from shale thousands of feet underground by injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure.

Environmental groups across the country have protested fracking for years. Cathy Cowan Becker of Save Ohio Parks, which opposes the practice, said fracking operations drain tens of millions of gallons of water from lakes, rivers and streams, mixing it with toxic chemicals and sand and injecting it deep below the ground. The organization also said fracking contributes to clearcutting forests and destroying plant and animal habitats.

In a Yale Public Health analysis, a review of chemicals released into air and water by fracking identified 55 that may cause cancer. The research, posted on the National Institutes of Health website, warns that millions of people living within a mile of fracking wells may have been exposed to these chemicals.

Cowan described Wednesday’s commission session as “chaotic and hard to hear the proceedings” because of the audience of about 100 people protesting at the meeting.

“We’re very saddened about this but we’re not surprised,” she said. “It’s shameful that the commission is allowing fracking in our state parks and wildlife areas.”

Several members of the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus sent a letter to the commission urging them to reject the fracking applications on state parks and lands.

“These applications, if approved, would very likely lead to disastrous consequences not only for the cleanliness and wellbeing of our state parks, but also for the health and safety of our fellow Ohioans who live near and visit these peaceful refuges,” the state senators said.

Update on fracking letters controversy

It was reported in September that the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission allegedly received fraudulent letters of support from Ohioans, including some from the Dayton region.

The issue was originally revealed by and The Plain Dealer, which found dozens of Ohioans who say their names were used without permission in a flood of public comments urging the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission to allow fracking for oil and natural gas in Salt Fork and other state parks and protected lands. One set of those form letters traced back to an entity that advocates for the natural gas industry.

The Dayton Daily News reached out to people from the Miami Valley whose names, addresses and phone numbers appear in comments to the commission in support of fracking in state parks. Several said they did not know what fracking is and were upset after they found out.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation regarding the allegedly fraudulent letters in September.

“This is still an open investigation. There are not any additional details that can be shared at this time.” said Bethany McCorkle, communications director for Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

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