OH BHA Joins Partners to Take Legal Action Opposing Permitting Process

History

In 2011, a law was passed permitting natural gas drilling at state parks in Ohio. (Ohio Senate approves bill to allow oil and gas drilling at state parks). Largely due to public concern about the impact on state parks, then Governor John Kasich effectively eliminated leasing of these lands by not appointing members to the Oil and Gas Land Commission (Ohio House bill would ease fracking in state park). There were various attempts to restart the process, but none was successful until 2022, when a bill with the innocuous title "A bill to amend section 925.62 of the Revised Code to revise the number of poultry chicks that may be sold in lots" was introduced, House Bill 507 (House Bill 507 Documents | 134th General Assembly | Ohio Legislature).

The initial intent of the bill was to allow lots of 3 chicks to be sold rather than the previous 6 chicks, benefitting kids who want to sell a few chicks at their 4-H shows. In a dazzling display of bill packing by legislators, this one page bill about chicken sales grew to 42 pages covering a host of issues, including hydraulic fracturing for the purpose of natural gas extraction from under state lands including state parks. 

HB 507 changed the language from "may lease" to "shall lease, in good faith", indicating to state agencies that they have no ability to decide how the land that they oversee will be used.

"The bill requires state agencies to lease land that is owned or controlled by the agency for the development of oil and gas resources prior to rules governing leasing procedures being adopted by the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission. The fiscal effect of this provision is uncertain. Under current law, state agencies are authorized to lease land for oil and gas development, though they are not required to do so." (HB 507 Fiscal Note and Local Impact Statement: (https://www.legislature.ohio.gov/download?key=20220&format=pdf)

It is also notable that the bill included no limitations on surface disruption of the landscape.

This shoddy bill was passed in a lame-duck session over the December holidays in 2022 with zero public commentary or hearings on the proposed amendments. There was no allowance for public comment on the leases. The rightful owners of this land, the citizens of Ohio, were cut out of the process of passing this law and the process of administering leases for the extraction of our publicly held resources.

 

Legal Action

The Ohio chapter became aware of HB 507 in December of 2022, but it moved very quickly and was passed by the new year. Early in January 2023, we sent an action alert out to our members ( https://www.backcountryhunters.org/beat_the_chicken_bill_in_ohio), encouraging them to contact Governor Mike DeWine and advocate for a veto of this onerous bill. This effort was not successful, and HB 507 became law shortly after. In February 2023, we posted a blog advocating for the adoption of a reasonable public comment period (https://www.backcountryhunters.org/public_comment_period_needed_for_oil_gas).

After substantial advocacy by a coalition of conservation organizations including BHA, a limited public comment period was instituted. Ohio BHA board member Gabriel Karns, a visiting assistant professor at Ohio State University, took advantage of this public comment period, as did Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

During this time, Ohio BHA became aware of a lawsuit by Earthjustice challenging HB 507 and began a conversation about possible legal challenge avenues.

While BHA did not participate in the initial lawsuit challenging HB 507, in late 2023 Backcountry Hunters & Anglers joined with several conservation organizations including Save Ohio Parks, Buckeye Environmental Network, Ohio Environmental Council in a legal action led by lawyers at Earthjustice to appeal the decision by the Oil and Gas Land Commission to lease regions of Salt Fork State Park, Zepernick Wildlife Area, and Valley Run Wildlife Area for oil and gas development.

Ohio BHA took this action because we and other citizens of Ohio have been systematically cut out of the process and essentially have no say in how our land and resources will be used in this case. This was made abundantly clear when even the recommendations of Director Mertz were largely ignored. 

The initial appeal of the leasing process for these lands was unsuccessful, but a similar second legal appeal is ongoing and BHA is a party to that effort.

 

Looking Ahead

It is critical that decisions impacting our shared public lands are made by a legitimate process that includes the public and provides sufficient protection to our land and resources. There is no clause in HB 507 or any other Ohio law preventing or limiting surface disruption on our state parks for the purpose of oil and gas extraction, only a promise from an outgoing governor that no surface disruption will occur.

With public lands making up about 4 percent of the land in Ohio, opportunities for public access to hunting, fishing, hiking, wildlife watching and other outdoor pursuits are limited. Ohio BHA is committed to conserving all of the public land in Ohio and supports adding to the public estate at every opportunity.

We do not take legal action lightly at BHA, but in this case, there was no other recourse to ensure adequate protection of our state parks and the ability of the citizens to have a voice in the management of our public lands.

 

Ohio BHA Board of Directors

5-3-2024

 

About Ohio BHA Chapter

Our chapter is dedicated to serving the interests of conservation and access to clean public lands and waters. Through planning, collaboration, and dedication, we will make a difference.

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