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Senate adds amendment to bill that changes leasing laws to frack under state public lands

Frac stacks at Encino drilling site in Salineville
Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau
Frac stacks at Encino drilling site in Salineville

The Ohio Senate added an amendment to a bill that would change Ohio law to say state agencies “shall” lease, in good faith, public land for oil and gas development.

Opponents of the change argued that the new language would become an automatic approval for qualifying oil and gas companies to horizontally drill under public lands and produce natural gas through the process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Ohio law has allowed fracking under public lands through a process that would include bidding and public comment. However, that process requires a set of rules that have yet to be finalized by the governor’s administration in order to begin.

Nathan Johnson, Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund’s public lands director, said the bill sidesteps that process to effectively create a “rubber stamp” for oil and gas companies to frack under public lands.

“It’s any oil and gas company that can come in to say ‘this is what I want, I want this state park’ or ’I want this state forest, give me the lease,’” said Johnson.

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.

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.

The original language of the House bill, HB507, removed the requirement that said a person would have to buy or be gifted no less than six chickens if the age of the chicks was less than four weeks old. It began as legislation to reduce restrictions for youth participating in 4-H competitions.

Also added in the bill was a provision to name natural gas a “green energy” to recognize the low amount of carbon it produces. This is another measure opposed by environmental advocates.

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