A 2011 state law gave state agencies the power, if they choose, to lease out state lands for oil and gas exploration and production. However, the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission has been slow to approve any projects. Former Governor John Kasich signed that bill into law but didn’t appoint anyone to the commission for years. Under Governor Mike DeWine, the commission has met more often but has not approved leases.
The Ohio Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee added new amendments to House Bill (HB) 507 sponsored by state Representative Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield) that would change the language to say a state agency “shall” accept a lease that meets certain conditions, instead of saying it “may” do so. In other words, requiring an agency to grant the lease application from oil and gas drillers.
“This has been on the books for over a decade. We’re just trying to make it more efficient for everyone involved,” Brundrett said.
Outside of just natural gas, the amended legislation would also create a broad new legal definition of “green energy,” a term that generally refers to power derived from the sun, wind, or water, that would include not only natural gas but also any energy that “is more sustainable and reliable relative to some fossil fuels.”
According to estimates by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas emits significantly less carbon dioxide than coal but contributed to 33% of the United States methane emissions in 2020 and 4% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Schaffer said natural gas is “an extremely clean source of energy” and a major resource in Ohio. In testimony Schaffer cited that in July, European Union lawmakers designated natural gas and nuclear power as “green” or “sustainable” energy. Schaffer noted that it is important to follow suit.
Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Cleveland) cited a host of problems he has with the bill including how “it was written behind closed doors, its removal of state agency discretion on leasing land to drillers, how it “erodes” state energy policy, and calling a fossil fuel green energy.
“This amendment cuts an important process of deciding if and how drilling occurs in our state parks which should be protected and not exploited,” Yuko said.
According to Brundrett, the law is about helping producers obtain leases to secluded parcels of state-owned land not necessarily stat parks with stalled projects. He said the amendment will expedite the process while the Ohio Department of Natural Resources debates rules to govern the leasing process. He also noted that the state would still have the power to turn down unworthy projects.
“There’s nothing in this amendment that would force the state to accept a lease that isn’t appropriate or fair for the state of Ohio,” Brundrett said.
There are some built-in limits. State nature preserves are exempt from drilling under the 2011 law.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), burning natural gas for energy results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) than burning coal or petroleum products to produce an equal amount of energy. However, methane, an especially strong greenhouse gas, has a tendency to leak during the transfer of gas.
According to Ohio State University Professor Jeff Bielicki, concepts of sustainability and conservation should drive policy. He also noted that gas drilling brings noise, trucks, wastewater disposal, and other disruptions and the focus should be on keeping things in their natural state.
“State lands are state lands in part because we want to conserve them for some reason. And we derive a lot of benefits from keeping things in their natural state. These amendments seem to me to be narrowly focused on one aspect of our energy system when what we really need to be doing is transferring away from natural gas,” Bielicki said.
In an interview, this fall with Cleveland.com, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine was asked a question about whether Ohio can turn to a renewable energy future and he cited natural gas in his response.
“One of the great assets that we have that is a lot less carbon producing is natural gas. Our ability to move to natural gas, we’re already doing it at a fairly fast pace. We can continue to do that, DeWine said.
House Bill 507 passed the Senate on a 22-7 vote and now goes back to the Ohio House, where it can concur on revisions made by the Senate or negotiate changes.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]