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Commission approves bids to frack Ohio’s largest state park and 2 wildlife areas

People sit at a meeting with two people holding anti-fracking signs as law enforcement officers stand on each side.
Julie Grant
The Allegheny Front
People attended the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management meeting on Monday.

Ohio state troopers were on hand at a packed meeting of the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission in Columbus on Monday, as residents against fracking for oil and natural gas in state parks yelled and held protest signs — one warning Gov. Mike DeWine not to be a “climate criminal.”

The five-member commission awarded two bids to Infinity Natural Resources to frack under Salt Fork State Park, Ohio’s largest state park. It will pay Ohio more than $58 million and a 12.5% royalty.

As the commission voted, Terri Sabo, who lives near the park, cried out from her seat in the audience.

After the meeting, Sabo said she has seen eagles and bobcats in the 17,000-acre park located in Guernsey County. “It’s got dark night skies, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful location,” she said.

A person in a white shirt and blue jeans sits holding her head. Three people stand wearing sheer beige covers and signs on their chests reading "climate chaos" and "sea level rise."
Julie Grant
The Allegheny Front
Terri Sabo holds her head as she hears the commission vote to approve bids to frack under Salt Fork State Park during a meeting on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024.

The bid approvals mean numerous well pads could be built outside the park, and Sabo is concerned about the industrialization of the area. They’re already putting pipelines in along the roads. And it’s really just ruined that way of life. For any visitor that comes to that area, it’s sad.”

The commission also approved a total of four bids by Encino Energy to frack under Valley Run and Zepernick wildlife areas. Plus, it approved five bids for parcels owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation.

When the commission was considering the sole bid to frack under a parcel owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation in Columbiana County, Commissioner Matthew Warnock noted that it was below market value.

Late Monday, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources revealed publicly that Hilcorp Energy Company of Houston, Texas, offered $1,000 per acre, compared with $5,000 or more for bids on other ODOT properties.

“Even though we have one [bid], it’s pretty far below what I view as market, in terms of the dollar amount. I don’t know how you want to handle that,” Warnock said.

The bid in question was nominated for fracking by an undisclosed company in October 2023.

Our view obviously at the time that we were reviewing that nomination was that the economic incentives were sufficient to justify approval,” said Commission Chair Ryan Richardson before voting to approve the bid by Hilcorp Energy Corporation of Houston, Texas.

Warnock voted against that bid, as well as one on another ODOT parcel by EOG Resources, Inc. of $500 per acre, which he also considered to be under market value.

Some residents said they were in disbelief because, despite their efforts to stop fracking on public lands, the bids were approved.

“We have had two lawsuits. We have written 5,000 letters. We have done everything. We attended [meetings. We helped get the rules in place for this process,” said Loraine McCosker, a steering committee member of the volunteer group Save Ohio Parks. “And still, the commission was willing to sell for under market value. What is that about?”

In total, the commission approved 11 bids and two additional nominations that will go out for bid in the coming months.

Chair Richardson noted bid approvals are not a permit to drill and, that the companies will still need to go through the state’s regulatory process.

Updated: February 27, 2024 at 10:59 AM EST
This story has been update to include bid offer amounts.