Over a decade ago, the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission was created within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to oversee oil and gas leases on public land in the Buckeye State. In the years since its formation, the Commission has largely slumbered and for the purposes of conversation – done basically nothing. That is changing.
HB 507, ignominiously dubbed the “Chicken Bill”, has roused the Commission awake. Among several sticking points, a “shall lease” clause sets a different precedent for would be public land parcel nominations for oil and gas development. “May lease” was the original tenor of the Commission’s attitude toward public land parcel nominations; “may” suggesting that a nominated public parcel would be carefully vetted, discussed, and reviewed before a decision was made. April 7th is a looming date when the “may” will be replaced with “shall” – currently, no process exists for public review and comment. This is a scary looming opportunity for quite nefarious behavior. Ohio Backcountry Hunters and Anglers recently joined with other voices to urge the Commission to adopt a robust procedural process for review and comment under Draft Rule 155-01-1. G
Here are the specifics of Draft Rule 155-01-1:
- The Commission allows 60 days for public comment from the time of parcel nomination to the time the Commission meets to make a decision,
- Each nominated parcel posts on the public website for the duration of the nomination, review, and comment period,
- An email notification list is created to provide direct email notification for each nominated parcel to subscribers at the start of the 60-day period,
- The date of each public land parcel’s nomination, the procedure for public comment, and the deadline (date and time) for public comment submission is clearly posted on the website,
- Each notice provides electronic access to the location and map of the nominated parcel,
- And, a description of the factors considered by the Commission to decide whether oil & gas extraction or development will be allowed on a parcel of public land is clearly stated.
Currently, a brief 7-day window without notice or opportunity for comment is all that exists between a nomination for lease and the granting of said lease. Until such a mechanism is adopted, state wildlife areas, parks, and forests could be coerced under the “shall” lease clause beginning April 7th. Not to be overly critical of the speed of government, but it is unlikely that Draft Rule 155-01-1 or similar structure will be passed to counter punch in time. While we are not necessarily opposed to responsible natural resource extraction, we are most definitely opposed to being steamrolled without opportunity to voice our opinions.
Why should we care so deeply about robust and formalized rule-based procedures for public review and comment? And let’s contextualize our answer to the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission. Our involvement, yours and mine, is necessary, period. Full stop.
Giants are feared. By nature, we – individual citizens – fear big corporations, big industry, big agencies, and big institutions. Historically, all of the above have given us plenty of cause for concern. But not all giants are bad. The Commission is a giant, but it has been asleep for over a decade. It’s hard to know whether a sleeping giant is a big bad giant (BBG) or a big good giant (BGG). Will the Commission assume the role of a BGG and assume the role of protectorate and reasonable steward of our public lands? Or will the Commission turn out to be less than friendly? Only time will tell. In the interim, we are right to skeptical of giants like the Commission. We need safeguards and robust mechanisms in place to ensure we have a seat at the decision-making table. Without such procedures, we the people have no substantive measures to defend ourselves against a giant. Given that the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission has been asleep for over a decade but now is stirring, we urge rapid adoption of Draft Rule 155-01-1 to pave the road for public input and comment.