Columbus — An advocacy group continues to push for more details of a plan to allow horizontal drilling for oil and gas on state-owned lands that was developed by Gov. John Kasich’s administration and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The plan ultimately was shelved, and the governor says he no longer supports the idea.
But Alison Auciello, Ohio Organizer for Food & Water Watch, said June 19 that emails and other documents show the administration pursued the plan longer than it initially indicated.
And she questions whether parts of the strategy were implemented.
“We feel that it’s pretty clear that the administration and the Department of Natural Resources has misled us about how far and about how deeply it planned to go on with this communications plan to promote fracking,” Auciello said. “It shows a lot of inconsistencies in what the administration is saying about the plan and some conflicts of interest. So we’re asking for the attorney general to conduct a full investigation into how far this plan actually went.”
The ODNR plan came to light earlier this year as a result of a public records request from the liberal advocacy group ProgressOhio, environmentalists and newspaper reporters.
The documents note intentions to “exercise state-owned drilling rights” at several state parks “in a way that maximizes benefits and safeguards for Ohioans, completely avoids park surface disturbance and minimizes forest surface disturbance…”
A section of the plan titled, “Communication Problem to Solve,” states that “an initiative to proactively open state park and forest land to horizontal drilling/hydraulic fracturing will be met with zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists.”
ODNR and the governor’s office have said it is not out of the ordinary for agencies to develop communications strategies for responding to criticism of policy decisions.
ODNR also said the draft plan was never implemented. And Kasich said in February that he no longer supports fracking on state-owned parkland and forests.
“Ohio doesn’t frack on state land, nor does it permit public colleges and universities to frack on their lands,” Bethany McCorkle, ODNR spokeswoman, said in a released statement. “The policy has been examined and considered and the decision was made not to do it, and that’s the policy for the foreseeable future. Out-of-state groups who really don’t know what’s going on in Ohio or understand how Ohio works frequently parachute in to try to advance their particular agendas, but the fact is that Ohio makes its decisions based on what’s best for Ohio, and in this case we don’t think drilling on state land is in the best interest of Ohioans.”
But Democratic lawmakers continue to voice concern about public records showing the administration pursued a marketing strategy for fracking on public lands.
In a joint statement, Reps. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) and Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) offered, “These revelations further confirm that the governor’s office has been lying about how long they pursued plans to team up with the oil and gas industry in promoting fracking in state parks and fracking in general. How long can the state’s top official continue to be dishonest with taxpayers? The public deserves to know the full extent to which the governor planned to push fracking in our state parks.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.