Ohio officials are more than a year behind schedule in setting up a system to allow oil and gas “ fracking” in state parks and forests, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
A state law gave Gov. John Kasich a November 2011 deadline to appoint a five-member commission that would lease park and forest mineral rights to the highest bidders. And that commission had until June 2012 to come up with rules.
“This is the state’s opportunity and the state’s business,” said Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. “They are the ones that need to decide if they are going to use the tools made available to them to generate revenues from the people’s property.”
A recent Dispatch analysis of state-held mineral rights showed that Ohio could collect as much as $183 million in lease-signing bonuses. That’s if the state leased mineral rights it holds in 14 state parks and forests near areas where drilling is most active.
Drilling companies eager to tap Ohio’s Utica shale have offered signing bonuses that exceed $3,000 an acre in some regions of the state.
Kasich supported opening state parks and forests to drilling, saying the income would help erase a $500 million maintenance backlog at Ohio state parks.
Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman, said the delay was necessary to find good commissioners.“It’s far more important to get the right people with the right background into these positions,” Nichols said. “We’re going to have an announcement on this very soon.”
The commission must include the chief of the Ohio Geological Survey, two members recommended by the oil and gas industry, a real-estate or finance expert and a member of a statewide environmental group.
Stewart said he submitted a list of oil and gas industry candidates in December 2011.
“We sent over our recommendations and never heard anything back from them,” he said.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials have said little about their progress since the law was passed. Last year, the Ohio Sierra Club sued the agency for ignoring repeated requests for documents and emails regarding state parks and drilling.
The agency, which paid $9,000 to settle the suit in March, released records that showed officials had spent at least three months in different county recorder offices to find out how much Utica shale the state owns. The agency drafted proposed rules that would keep drilling rigs at least 300 feet from campgrounds and other attractions.
“This is a huge undertaking, and at this time, no time frame for final completion has been established,” spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle wrote in an email.
Environmental advocates, who argue that drilling and fracking pose a pollution threat to state parks and forests, are not complaining.
“Every day there isn’t drilling in the state parks is a good day,” said Jed Thorp, the Sierra Club’s central Ohio chapter manager. “The longer they take to create the thing, the better.”