Ohioans signed pro-fracking form letters without knowing they did. The attorney general is investigating
The Ohio Attorney General's Office is investigating how the names of dozens of people appeared without their knowledge or permission on letters generated by a group that advocates for drilling for oil and gas in state parks.
Attorney General Dave Yost said he’s concerned about a report on Cleveland.com on Sunday, saying those form letters from the Consumer Energy Alliance included the names of dozens of people who didn’t authorize them and in some cases don’t want drilling or fracking in state parks.
"You can't tell whether there is a criminal offense until you can nail down all the elements and you have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That's why we have investigations," Yost said. "It's possible that there was a criminal offense that occurred here. I'm not certain that there was. So we need to work on that."
House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) suggested there was illegal activity involved, saying in a statement: “Without a doubt, any process allowing or denying drilling and fracking in our pristine state parks is controversial, but these recent allegations suggest that the process has been overrun by scammers and out-of-state groups trying to rig [the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission]'s approval process."
There's also a larger issue involved here, Yost said, that government needs to trust that public input actually comes from the public.
"This is critical for a participatory government, participatory democracy. When the government asks for comments, when they ask them to say, 'Hey, what are we missing here? What don't we understand about the way this rule is going to operate in your life and your business and your community?' They are relying on actual people to be collaborating with them in the rulemaking process," Yost said. "And if, in fact, people's identities are being hijacked to support positions that are not theirs and in fact these aren't actual comments, the whole notice and comment system for rulemaking starts to break down."
In a statement from the Consumer Energy Alliance, a trade association and lobbying group representing around 350 energy companies, providers, suppliers and users, about a quarter of which are fossil-fuel based, CEO David Holt said it "is in active communication with the Ohio Attorney General’s office and other relevant agencies and appreciates their prompt review of these allegations. Since sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, CEA will keep working with any and all relevant Ohio authorities to bring full clarity to the situation, since the allegations are provably not true....The public comment process is an essential part of participatory democracy and a complete airing of the facts in this situation and others like it is merited.”
Fracking in state parks has been a concern of environmentalists since Gov. Mike DeWine signed a law in January that could force state agencies to allow oil and gas drilling on Ohio-owned lands.
DeWine has said as long as he's governor, "we're not going to drill in state parks." But activists are concerned about horizontal drilling from outside the park and going under the park at an angle, which DeWine has said is a different thing than going into the park itself.