Ohio Considers New Wells, Looks to Alaska Example

Published December 1, 2005

A bill introduced into the Ohio Senate and still under consideration at press time, Senate Bill 193, would allow oil and gas drilling and commercial logging in state-owned parks, wilderness areas, and game lands. Supporters say the drilling would increase natural gas production in the state, increase local supply, and lead to lower prices for local consumers. It also would bring royalties to the state.

A similar bill to be introduced in the state House of Representatives was being written at press time.

Significant Reserves Untapped

The expected House bill would compensate for oil production lost when Gov. Bob Taft (R) signed an executive order in 2003 banning directional drilling from onshore wells under Lake Erie. Rep. John Hagan (R-Alliance), chairman of the House Utilities and Energy Committee, told the media on September 28 he would fully cooperate with environmental groups to ensure new oil recovery efforts would not damage state parks and forests.

Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, told the October 3 Athens News the Salt Fork State Park provides a typical example of oil and natural gas reserves under state land.

“A rudimentary study shows that there’s substantial reserves there,” Steward told the Athens News. “It’s not a huge number compared to somewhere like Texas, but it’s a significant amount of reserves.”

Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials insisted any new recovery efforts be undertaken with great care, but they did not categorically oppose new production sources. “We’re not blatantly opposed to oil and gas drilling in state parks,” DNR spokesperson Jane Beathard told the September 29 Greenwire.

Recovery Benefits

Ohio officials point to Alaska for an example of how natural resource production can make the most out of rising energy costs. Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) predicts his state could see a $1.5 billion budget surplus this year because of high fuel prices.

Resource recovery can benefit private citizens and the government alike, observes John Oliver, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources from 1995 to 2003 and former president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

“Pennsylvania practices the multiple use policy of conservation, allowing controlled extraction of gas on state forests and game lands. Gas leasing royalties support land acquisition for wildlife habitat as well as land development for recreational uses,” Oliver said.

Pennsylvania has long permitted natural gas extraction on state-owned land, and the money is used for maintaining state properties. That was the policy before Oliver directed his cabinet-level agency and continues to be the policy under the current administration of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell.

“I feel this policy works very well and am strongly in favor it,” Oliver said.

— Michael Coulter