By Marc Kovac
A Democratic state lawmaker joined representatives of environmental groups Tuesday in protesting Republican-backed plans to allow oil and gas drilling in state parks.
Rep. Teresa Fedor of Toledo and others are concerned about high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The process, commonly called “fracking,’’ is a method of extracting oil and gas by pumping large volumes of water and chemicals into underground shale formations.
Opponents say they want a moratorium on the practice until adequate safeguards are in place to protect the environment. They also want lawmakers to block attempts to expand drilling on state-owned lands.
“There’s a lot that we don’t know about this new and unconventional drilling,” Fedor said.
“We’re going to have to have answers before we open up and really put at stake our state parks. ... Eleven million people expect their parks to be pristine, gorgeous, protected.”
But proponents say hydraulic fracturing has been in use in the United States and Ohio for decades and is safe, due to the regulations already in place in the state.
“With energy development or with any kind of economic activity, there’s always going to be an environmental footprint,” said Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
“Airplanes do fall out of the sky. ... What Ohio citizens need to be concerned about is that the proper regulatory process is in place to regulate the industry, to ensure the public that they can have faith and trust that this is done properly.”
Protesters held signs and talked to reporters Tuesday at Ohio State University in the same building where drilling advocates were meeting with lawmakers to talk about fracking.
Legislation pending in Ohio House and Senate would open additional state lands to oil and gas drilling, and Gov. John Kasich frequently touts the potential economic windfall awaiting the state by using hydraulic fracturing.
Proponents, including Republicans backing the legislation and Stewart’s association, believe increased drilling on state-owned land would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in lease and royalty payments for Ohio.
Stewart said hydraulic fracturing has been used in Ohio since the 1950s. The new change is in the direction of those wells — horizontal instead of vertical — that results in increased oil and gas production from one site.
He countered assertions that more time was needed to study the new practice to determine its potential environmental impact.
“If they say there isn’t enough evidence to know what happens to a rock when you hydraulically fracture it at 4,000 feet of depth, then they’re not paying attention to history,” Stewart said.
But opponents continue to question drilling in state parks and the use of hydraulic fracturing. They cite examples of an explosion in a park in Texas that spurred a weeks-long fire and contaminated wells in Pennsylvania.
Opponents would rather see the state focus on solar and wind energy and other renewable resources that don’t have the same potential adverse environmental impacts — especially in state parks.