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Ohio approves fracking under state park and wildlife areas at contentious meeting

Protesters sitting and standing behind tables holding signs opposed to fracking in state parks.
Julie Grant
The Allegheny Front
Protesters at the meeting of the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission in Columbus, November 15, 2023.

Around a hundred people held signs and shouted as an Ohio commission approved fracking under the state’s largest park and two wildlife areas in the eastern part of the state.

The five-member Oil and Gas Land Management Commission met to consider a dozen proposals to frack under state lands.

Fracking Ohio-owned public lands
The "Sound of Ideas Reporters Roundtable" discusses fracking Ohio parks and wildlife areas.

They faced a crowd of grandparents, students and others imploring them to deny the nominations and protect Ohio’s public lands.

The commission started by approving an addendum to standard lease agreements for state parks and wildlife areas, with specifications for well pad locations, protection of water resources, and limitations on traffic, noise and light pollution from fracking operations. It also put limitations on fracking activities during hunting seasons in the spring and fall.

In another action, they approved additional requirements for the percentage of profits energy companies would owe the state from the natural gas liquids produced under public lands.

But when the commission approved a nomination to frack under Salt Fork, the room erupted with jeers and shouts accusing the members of putting short-term profit over their grandchildren’s right to enjoy the public lands.

One woman in the audience charged to the front of the meeting room, throwing a pile of play money on the floor.

Protesters yelling as they hold a banner. A woman with short hair argues with them.
Julie Grant
The Allegheny Front
Protesters and commission chair Ryan Richardson argue at the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission meeting, November 15, 2023.

Commission chair Ryan Richardson implored them to stop the disturbance.

“I’m going to ask again that we can show respect to the commissioners,” she said.

“No!” another woman yelled back. “Why should we show respect when you are not respecting us, and you’re giving away our land to profit-making oil and gas? Why should we sit here and let you do that?”

Young activists from the groups Sunrise Movement and Climate Defiance who were there from Athens, Oberlin and Columbus jumped in front of the crowd, blocking the view of the commissioners, and holding a large sign that read, “Commissioners: No Fracking Our Ohio Public Lands.”

RELATED: Panel allows drilling on some Ohio-owned lands but delays vote on leases in state parks

The commissioners took a brief recess and left the meeting room.

Ryan Richardson stands holding a microphone behind a row of tables. Five men are seated at the tables. A pile of play money is on the floor in front of them.
Julie Grant
The Allegheny Front
Ryan Richardson, chair of the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, addresses the crowd of citizens. In front of the table is a pile of play money an activist threw on the floor.

When they reentered, they continued the meeting, even as citizens continued to stand right in front of them chanting slogans like “Public land is not for profit!” and “Save our parks!”

In the end, the commission approved three drilling nominations at Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County, three at Valley Run Wildlife Area in Carroll County, and one at Zepernick Wildlife Area in Columbiana County, as well as one property owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation in Belmont County.

These are the first parks and wildlife areas approved under a state law passed last December.

Nominations can go out to bid in January.