Fourteen parcels of state land, including parts of Salt Fork State Park and Zepernick Wildlife Refuge, could be auctioned Monday to oil and gas companies wanting to drill beneath them.
The Oil and Gas Land Management Commission is expected to consider applications for fracking these public lands at its 10 a.m. meeting. And they have two options for each parcel: approve a set of conditions for leasing these mineral rights or take more time to work out the conditions.
Ohio law gives them 60 days from Monday to make a decision.
Environmental groups like Save Ohio Parks want commissioners to wait for Attorney General Dave Yost to complete an investigation into how many of the 1,100 pro-fracking emails submitted to the commission were fraudulent.
An investigation by Cleveland.com found dozens of Ohioans who said they had no idea how their names ended up on letters supporting fracking.
“These apparently fraudulent letters have no place in decisions that would irrevocably alter our state parks, wildlife preserves and beloved public lands,” Save Our Parks committee member Cathy Cowan Becker said in a statement .
More:As Ohio paves the way for fracking under state parks, residents call for transparency
But even though the commission could delay its decision, Ohio’s new state law makes it difficult to reject these appointments.
In December 2022, Republicans changed the language regarding leasing public lands for oil and gas exploration from “may” to “shall.”
Supporters said the change simply clarified what Ohio lawmakers wanted when they first authorized drilling under public lands a decade ago. Require state officials to lease Ohio mineral rights if applicants meet specific requirements.
Environmental organizations said it was a sneaky last-minute move by Republicans to open public lands to fracking without public input. Earth Justice, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and Buckeye Environmental Network challenged the law in court.
“Fracking will industrialize our parks, drain and pollute our lakes and rivers with millions of gallons of water for generations, destroy plant, animal and insect environments, and emit massive amounts of greenhouse gases, including methane, which accelerates climate change,” Save said. said Randi Pokladnik of Ohio Parks in a statement. “We don’t need fracking near our parks. We need pristine parks that our citizens can enjoy for generations.”
Ohio Oil & Gas Association President Rob Brundrett said in an April interview that opponents of such leases exaggerate the risks.
“There is a misconception that the industry revolves around state parks and is going to destroy public lands,” Brundrett said. “The industry is highly regulated. Our employees who work for these companies also live here. It’s in our best interest to do it safely.”
Drilling will also not take place inside national parks. Gov. Mike DeWine has said he would not approve surface drilling, and Brundrett said the companies he represents are not seeking to do so.
Oil and gas companies often want to be more than a mile underground and accessible through pipelines several thousand feet away.
“If there is ever drilling around the Salt Fork and under the Salt Fork, your experiences as a tourist, as a citizen, will not change at all,” Brundrett said. “You will still be able to enjoy the lake and the trails.”
This story will be updated.
Anna Staver is a reporter for the Ohio bureau of the USA TODAY Network, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations in Ohio.