By Burton Speakman
A group of residents believe Beaver Creek State Park is at risk.
They claim a bill passed by the Ohio Legislature this year that would allow for more oil and gas development and increased logging at state parks will lead to drilling at the park near East Liverpool.
But the state agency responsible for overseeing any drilling activity says such fears are unfounded.
“There is going to be fracking all around the park. Our goal is just to keep the drillers from placing a pad on state park land,” said Jim Hess, from the group Save Beaver Creek State Park. Hess is also a volunteer at the Beaver Creek Wildlife Education Center.
Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process in which sand, water and chemicals are pumped into shale at a high pressure to release the gas trapped within the rock thousands of feet underground.
Hess said he believes drilling under the park land is inevitable.
Save Beaver Creek group is asking for the pad, equipment and roads to be placed outside of park boundaries to protect the environment.
“We’re also trying to keep logging completely off the park land,” Hess said.
Carlo LoParo, communications chief for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said there no decision has been made about drilling within Beaver Creek or any other state park in the Mahoning Valley.
“There has been a map circulating that came from an open-records request from the Sierra Club. It was an old working document that had parks organized into tiers,” LoParo said. “We’ve told them it’s not accurate.”
ODNR’s goal is to start with allowing additional drilling or logging in mixed-use parks where the two activities already occur, LoParo said.
“There are no plans at this time to do any drilling or logging at Beaver Creek State Park,” he said.
The concerns about Beaver Creek relate to the potential for the removal of trees to hurt the park, which is a habitat for birds and the Hellbender salamander, the largest salamander in North America, that lives in and around the creek, Hess said.
“There are 141 species of birds that live in Beaver Creek watershed; not all of them are in the park but most are,” he said. “It’s one of the most important bird habitats in the state.”
The estimate for Beaver Creek is that the state would receive between $3.8 million and $8.8 million for leasing oil and gas development rights for the park, Hess said.
Power and gas lines that would be necessary for drilling and logging on the state park would have an adverse effect on the park, said Tom Butch, from the Columbiana County Federation of Conservation Clubs.
“The park is only about a mile wide. It would be easy for companies to drill underneath [without disrupting the park’s surface],” Butch said.
Ohio does not have unlimited ability to develop state parks due to wildlife habitat rules and restrictions imposed by accepting federal funding that helped pay for some parks, LoParo said.
The governor’s office and ODNR have decided that if the state does elect to lease oil and gas rights at new parks, then the drilling company would have to own adjacent property, he said.
LoParo repeated that the state has no plans to allow any type of surface disruption at any state park.
The governor still has not named the board members who will oversee the process of how state park land will be developed and decide what bids would be accepted, he said.
Any decision that would be made would be announced publicly so people would have the opportunity to comment, he said. There will be an open-bid process.
Local government agencies in Columbiana County also have become involved in the controversy. County commissioners have asked the state that no logging be done in Beaver Creek State Park and that if drilling is going to be done at the park the well pad not be placed on park land, said Mike Halleck, commission president.
“This was a personal thing for me,” said Commissioner John Payne, who is a native of East Liverpool.
There does not appear to be anyone in this area who wants to see something done that would damage the park, he said.
Most of the county’s townships have approved similar resolutions on logging and drilling in the park, Hess said.
Save Beaver Creek is not the only group in the state concerned about the possibility for more drilling and logging in state parks. Mohican Advocates, based in Mansfield, are taking a different approach toward the possibility of logging and drilling in the Mohican complex, which includes Mohican State Park, the Mohican State Forest and Malabar Farm State Park.
John Makley from the advocates group said currently the only way to stop progress toward drilling and logging in parks is to get people involved and turn public opinion against the politicians who approved the policy.
The group has come to Youngstown to talk about the issue and is working with the Beaver Creek group.
“There are a lot of people who don’t know about this,” he said. “Our strategy is to inform people.”
LoParo said the concerns of the Mohican Advocates are also unfounded.
Although things could change in the future, none of the parks that groups are concerned about has been targeted for drilling or logging, he said.