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Opponents of new state law that allows fracking on state-owned land testify in favor of policy changes


Opponents of a new state law requiring Ohio officials to allow fracking on state-owned land and inside parks testified Wednesday in favor of policy changes to allow for more public input on oil and gas exploration on public lands.

Officials from the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission met Wednesday morning to decide the process for gas and oil extraction on public land in Ohio. The meeting followed the passage of House Bill 507, which Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law on Jan. 6.

Columbus resident Cathy Cowan Becker says a newly-approved statute changes state law from "may lease" to "shall lease," meaning state agencies would be obligated to allow oil and gas companies to operate wells on state land.

Her group wants at least 60 to 120 days' notice and opportunity for public comment before such drilling is approved. "This is public land that Ohio residents pay for. Our taxes pay for this. We own this land and we should at least have a say," Becker said.

Becker said even if the state Oil & Gas Land Management Commission adopts the new rules, they would be subject to a lengthy review process and likely would not take effect before the new law does on April 7.

Becker also said, “I hope the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission is as frustrated as I am by the industry’s power grab that undermines their own authority. The entire purpose of the commission is to oversee nominations and leases for oil and gas extraction. Yet they will not be informed about these leases after HB 507 goes into effect, as the leases will go directly to state agencies that will be required to approve them.”

Leaders in the oil and gas industry downplay the environmental concerns, saying the state can still reject fracking projects it deems inappropriate.

The Republican lawmakers who supported the new bill language said it would remove hurdles that currently stand in the way of oil and gas companies applying for leases. They said it would lead to more natural gas development and increased tax revenue for the state.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) disputed the claim that a lease would be automatically approved through the new language. “I don’t think that there’s an automatic lease to anybody. There has to be an application. Obviously, they have to be people who know what they’re doing,” said Huffman.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.