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Court dismisses appeal to block drilling and fracking under Ohio park and wildlife areas

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Court dismisses appeal to block drilling and fracking under Ohio park and wildlife areas

Feb 26, 2024 | 4:45 am ET
By Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
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Court dismisses appeal to block drilling and fracking under Ohio park and wildlife areas
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Fracking pumpjacks. These pieces of equipment are crucial to oil field and fracking operations. (Getty Images.)

An Ohio judge has dismissed environmental groups’ appeal from commission decisions to lease parts of a state park and two wildlife areas for oil and gas drilling.

Judge Jaiza Page’s Feb. 23 order effectively denies the emergency stay the environmental groups had sought to stop the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission from acting on Monday to accept bids from companies to drill and frack under Salt Fork State Park, Zepernick Wildlife Area and Valley Run Wildlife Area.

Starting in January, the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission solicited bids from companies to drill and frack under the state park and wildlife areas. The commission is expected to act on bids at its Feb. 26 meeting.

Judge Page’s eight-page decision agreed with the commission that the court lacks jurisdiction over the appeal. She also agreed with the commission’s argument that the groups have no standing to contest its rulings.

“We are disappointed with the Court’s order. We are considering next steps with our clients,” said attorney Megan Hunter of Earthjustice, which has acted as counsel for Save Ohio Parks, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Buckeye Environmental Network and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Energy News Network reached out to spokespeople for the Ohio Attorney General and the Ohio Oil & Gas Land Management Commission, but they have not yet provided comments.

Judge Page’s order noted the word “shall” in one part of ORC Ch. 155, suggesting the commission has a mandatory duty to lease state park lands. Yet she did not mention at all the requirement in another part of the law that says the commission “shall” consider nine factors in deciding whether to allow drilling on state-owned lands.

A key part of the environmental groups’ challenge was that the commission failed to consider all nine factors the law required it to consider. Those include environmental impacts, effects on visitors or users of state-owned lands, public comments or objections, economic benefits, and other considerations.

The commission’s proceedings also have been clouded by the submission of hundreds of allegedly falsified pro-fracking comments. The commission announced in September that it would not consider those comments. But results of an investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s office have not yet been announced.

It’s also unclear whether the commission considered and properly weighed concerns voiced by opponents of the leasing, whose comments raised worries about possible contamination from accidents, anticipated interference with their ability to enjoy state parks and wildlife areas, and more.

A separate case challenges the constitutionality of House Bill 507, the law passed by Ohio’s General Assembly late last year to kickstart the commission’s leasing process. The law also declared that natural gas is “green energy.” That case is before Judge Kimberly Cocroft.

In the HB 507 case, the state argued the constitutional challenge case is moot because the commission’s adoption of leasing terms meant there was no longer any mandatory duty to allow drilling on state-owned lands.

It’s unclear whether appellees will appeal Judge Page’s order or if another motion for stay will be filed. It’s also unclear when Judge Cocroft will rule.

Companies submitting any winning bids accepted by the commission will need to file a permit application with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The agency reviews those permits fairly quickly, so drilling could start this spring.

This article first appeared on Energy News Network and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Court dismisses appeal to block drilling and fracking under Ohio park and wildlife areas