An update on lawmaker action and other activities at the Ohio Statehouse related to horizontal

An update on lawmaker action and other activities at the Ohio Statehouse related to horizontal hydraulic fracturing:

Statehouse protest: Food & Water Watch and other environmental groups organized a protest outside the Ohio Statehouse urging lawmakers to have hearings on legislation that would ban the disposal of fracking and oil-field waste in injection wells.

More than 50 people participated, holding signs, chanting and singing songs.

“What is shocking is how quickly the [Gov. John Kasich] administration and ODNR move forward to allow more and more waste injection without knowing the effects underground,” Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, said in a released statement. “We’ve seen problematic injection wells, sporadic inspections and earthquakes. But the agency charged with protecting us sounds just like the oil and gas industry when they minimize or dismiss the problems.”

Fugitive pollutants: The Ohio Environmental Council praised new “fugitive” air-emission controls instituted by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, including requirements that oil and gas operators regularly “inspect valves, connectors and other equipment at horizontal oil- and gas-production wells for invisible leaks of volatile organic compounds [VOC]. Under the new rule, if a VOC leak is detected, the operator must quickly repair it.”

Economic study: A liberal policy group released a new study of the economic impact of fracking-related activities in Carroll County.

Among other findings, Policy Matters Ohio noted that, while sale-tax receipts were up, “fewer jobs than promised are being created, with many going to out-of-state workers” and “increased truck traffic on roads not built to handle heavy loads and big trucks is causing wear and tear and a higher rate of accidents.” Additionally, “Rents are rising, becoming unaffordable for some residents.”

Earthquakes: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources determined that a series of earthquakes in the Youngstown area likely were caused by fracking activities. The agency also announced companies drilling horizontally for oil and gas in areas near known underground faults or that have experienced earthquakes will now have to install seismic monitors to track future earth movement.

“While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,” ODNR Director James Zehringer said in a released statement. “Not only will this reasonable course of action help to ensure public health and safety, but it will also help us to expand our underground maps and provide more information about all types of seismicity in Ohio.”

Another study: The Ohio Business Roundtable released an analysis conducted by Ernst & Young of Gov. John Kasich’s latest fracking-tax proposal, comparing Ohio to other shale states.

The study concluded “that even after the proposed severance tax would be adopted, Ohio’s effective tax rate would still rank lowest among these competitor states, and by a wide margin. Moreover, given our effective tax rate will remain the lowest among the nation’s key producing states, there is no reason to believe that it will prevent or slow development of the oil and gas industry in Ohio.”

Support: A poll commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute found widespread support among Ohioans for increased investment in oil and gas production. Among 600 Ohio voters questioned, 90 percent said they believed increased domestic production could lead to more jobs, while 79 percent said producing more oil and gas inside the country could help state and federal coffers, via lease payments and royalties.

Dumping-law changes: A Youngs-town-area dumping incident was part of the impetus behind stiffer penalties for violations of the state’s oil and gas regulations proposed as part of the governor’s midbiennium budget package. The provisions are included in now-separate legislation, House Bill 490, that had a first hearing in the Ohio House’s agriculture committee.

“[The Ohio Department of Natural Resources] constantly reviews our laws and regulations to ensure they offer the maximum protection of public health, safety and the environment, but the illegal actions of Ben Lupo and associates were a factor in the development of these updates,” Mark Bruce, an ODNR spokesman, said in a released statement. “We work to ensure we have the tools necessary to hold companies and people accountable should they choose to violate Ohio law.”

ODNR permanently revoked the operating licenses of two companies owned by Lupo after employees were caught dumping tens of thousands of gallons of oil-field waste into a storm sewer. Lupo pleaded guilty to related charges and awaits sentencing in federal court in June.

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