Local groups are appealing the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission’s approval of nominations to lease Ohio’s largest state park and two wildlife areas for oil and gas development.
On September 15, 2023, the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission approved nominations to lease Salt Fork State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area, and Zepernick Wildlife Area. Advocates are claiming the nomination approvals were not given proper consideration under Ohio state law. The groups also claim that there was no opportunity for public hearing as required by Ohio state law. The Commission’s approval of the nominations requires the public lands to be leased to the highest and best bidder, with bidding set to begin in January.
The groups suing include Save Ohio Parks, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Buckeye Environmental Network, and Ohio Environmental Council. They are represented by lawyers at Earthjustice, and the Ohio Environmental Council are also representing themselves in this case.
Statements from groups and attorneys are below
“Save Ohio Parks helped almost 5,000 Ohio citizens submit public comments opposed to fracking our state parks and wildlife areas. We sent the commissioners study after study showing fracking harms our health and environment without improving our economy. We pulled public records documenting that leaks, spills, and fires occur almost daily at oil and gas operations in Ohio. And we identified almost 100 people who did not submit the pro-fracking comments attributed to them. The Commission disregarded all of this evidence and voted to frack our beloved parks and wildlife areas anyway. Citizens were not allowed to speak at their meetings. The people of Ohio own and use our public lands, and we deserve a say in what happens to them. We did not get that say, and so we are appealing this appalling decision.”
Cathy Cowan Becker, Steering Committee Member, Save Ohio Parks
“In spite of the mandate by law to consider the thousands of letters of protest by hikers, hunters, anglers, scientists, physicians, and families in Ohio, the 5 pro oil and gas industry people on the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, voted to give away our precious public lands for fracking. Governor DeWine who appointed the industry-supporting decision makers shall be blamed for the irrevocable harm that will come to our parks and wildlife areas that should be protected.”
Roxanne Groff, Advisory Board Member, Buckeye Environmental Network; member of Save Ohio Parks
“Backcountry Hunters and Anglers is dedicated to the preservation of public land for multiple uses, including extractive uses in some cases, but this nomination process has been flawed from the start and further corrupted along the way. Our primary concern is the real and immediate impact on hunters and anglers and hikers and birders who use these state parks to pursue their passion, but also for all citizens of the great state of Ohio. Many citizens will never visit these places, but are still owners of the land. We do not feel that the owners of this land are being given proper consideration in deciding how it will be used. This rushed and chaotic process will not lead to an outcome that benefits Ohioans, nor the hunters and anglers of Salt Fork and Zepernick and Valley Run. These parks and those who use and own them deserve better, so we are appealing these nomination approvals.”
Dustin Lindley, Chair of the board for Ohio chapter, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers
“The Commission blatantly violated its own procedures and the law when it voted to open state public lands to the oil and gas industry. It failed to publicly consider potential harm fracking will have on our parks and wildlife areas and on the people who enjoy these beloved places. Ohioans deserve better. Our state public lands, especially Salt Fork State Park, are priceless natural gems that should be protected which is why we’re appealing the Commission’s decision.”
Nathan Johnson, Senior Attorney – Land and Water, Ohio Environmental Council
“These public lands provide some of the last places of respite from rampant oil and gas development in Appalachian Ohio. Opening these lands for leasing is an enormous decision worthy of every legal safeguard. The Commission failed to follow those safeguards, so we’ll see them in court.”
Megan Hunter, Senior Attorney, Earthjustice
On April 7, 2023, Ohio HB 507 went into law requiring the leasing of public lands, including state parks, for fracking. Oil and gas leasing was already allowed at state parks and public lands because of a 2011 bill from the state legislature. HB 507 required oil and gas leasing on state owned land until the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission adopted a uniform lease, at which point the Commission again has discretion to approve or disapprove nominations to lease Ohio’s public lands. The Commission adopted a lease this spring and began receiving nominations to lease.
On November 15, 2023, the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission voted to advance requests to frack thousands of acres Salt Fork State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area and Zepernick Wildlife Area. The votes occurred over the chants of around 100 protesters.