Can anyone name for me another type of industry besides oil and gas that gets so many special deals and privileges from the state of Ohio?
As a consequence of various sweetheart arrangements with the state Legislature and administrative or regulatory agencies, Ohio's oil and gas industry has the sort of carte blanche that's unheard of when it comes to other industry or public sectors.
Consider the following:
Prohibiting local regulation
As a result of House Bill 278, a law passed in 2004, local cities, towns and well-populated townships are prohibited from regulating oil and gas operations within their limits.
This means that communities who do have a legal right to regulate nearly any other type of industry or activity (such as disallowing a slaughterhouse across the street from an elementary school, or confining a sugar processing plant to an industrial park) do not have the right to protect their citizens from high-intensity industrial activities related to deep-shale drilling operations.
The state assures us that the agency within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that enforces drilling regulations will make sure that oil and gas wells don't cause problems for local communities. One can be forgiven for feeling skeptical about this, however, after considering how chummy ODNR oil and gas regulators are with the industry they oversee. As I've mentioned in the past, the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resource Management website resembles an auxiliary information clearinghouse for Ohio's oil and gas industry.
While a sizeable portion of Ohio's citizenry is nervous about the deep shale boom that's just getting started in Ohio – if not downright opposed to it – the ODNR is absolutely giddy about the drilling boom, with no hint of any trepidation about its potential negative impacts (the sort of hazards that have persuaded whole states and Canadian provinces to enact fracking moratoriums).
When ODNR officials faithfully repeat the drillers' mantra that no groundwater contamination has ever resulted from deep-shale hydraulic fracturing (blithely ignoring the damage to water supplies when wells fail or experience blowouts, or potential problems or accidents during wastewater disposal), someone who's exceedingly gullible would have to wonder whether the agency's first priority will be to protect local communities or to oblige the gas and oil industry.
Even if we were to stipulate that fracking poses no hazard to water supplies (something I'm not about to do), it's outrageous that my community can't restrict an industrial activity that can be incredibly disruptive, with intense truck traffic, air pollution and other community impacts.
This isn't an argument against oil and gas development, but rather in favor of treating it like any other industry, by acknowledging legally that it can be disruptive and shouldn't be allowed just anywhere.
Drilling in state parks
As a result of a state law passed last year in the Republican-dominated Legislature (Sub. H.S. 133), oil and gas drilling is allowed on state lands, including state parks, forests and college campuses.
An article in the Columbus Dispatch Sunday reported that ODNR officials are considering rules that would allow drilling rigs to go up within 100 yards of campgrounds; lakes, streams and drinking-water wells; and trails, picnic areas and historic sites.
The agency originally had considered buffer zones a good deal stricter – between 300 and 500 yards from most of these amenities and natural features – though still not strict enough in my view. The substantial reduction in the buffer zone came after the ODNR shared its contemplated regulations and draft leases with an oil and gas company active in the deep shale play in Northeast Ohio.
At the same time, the ODNR had been stonewalling requests by an environmental group to inspect the same proposed rules, according to the article.
The article quoted Jed Thorp, manager of the Sierra Club's Ohio chapter, as stating, "These emails confirm my earlier suspicion that ODNR has been consulting with the oil and gas industry on their rules all along."
Does it make any sense to allow an oil and gas company to build its $8 million, several-acre drilling platform (with very intense truck traffic and industrial activity, along with the ever-present danger of an industrial accident) within a football field's distance of a state park campground or recreation lake?
This makes a mockery of the idea of parks and state
reserves as outdoor refuges.
No on higher oil and gas taxes
Republican lawmakers in Columbus, grateful recipients of ample campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, poked a fellow Republican, Gov. John Kasich, in the eye by stripping out his proposals for a severance tax increase on oil and gas operations. The increased taxes on the removal of Ohio's non-renewable natural resources would bring Ohio's oil and gas taxes to a level no higher than neighboring states with vibrant deep-shale drilling activity. Gov. Kasich would have used the money to fund an across-the-board income tax cut for Ohio citizens.
IN EACH OF THE PRECEDING three cases, I'm confident that Ohio citizens, if informed of their choices and given an up-or-down vote, would deliver a resounding no to the oil and gas industry. They'd say local governments should be able to protect themselves from high-intensity industry; state parks, forests, recreation areas, streams, lakes and campuses should be protected from industrial disruption and ruination; and the state and its people should get a fair cut of the massive profits from an industry with such a big, muddy footprint.
But then again, maybe I'm wrong. It could be that the petroleum industry has done such a swell job of brainwashing Americans with its constant barrage of slick pro-"Energy Future" advertisements on cable TV that Ohioans, if given a say about these things, would just respond, "OK, whatever." Seriously, sit back and watch an hour of CNN late some afternoon, and you'll be amazed at how much money the oil and gas industry is spending trying to win your support.
This propaganda has amped up tremendously since the shale oil boom kicked in. If it didn't have the desired effect, of course, the petroleum industry wouldn't be pouring all those millions into it. The same applies with those campaign contributions to legislators.
One thing – all those hyper-expensive ads place into perspective the industry's whining about paying fair severance taxes in Ohio. Just a small bit of those ad buys would more than fund the extra taxes they're trying to avoid paying.