Almost all of Ohio, an estimated 99.5 percent, already was open to oil and gas drilling when, in 2011, the industry persuaded the legislature and the governor to lease sites in state parks and other public lands. Two years later, the Kasich administration has not started the leasing process. In the meantime, drillers seem to have experienced little difficulty finding sites for their rigs.
So why, then, disturb the parks? The tiny fraction of additional energy supplies available from shale formations hardly outweighs the potential environmental damage, let alone the disruption drilling would cause in places set aside for the enjoyment and quiet contemplation of nature.
The House rewrite of the budget bill, unveiled last week, would add further insult to the potential environmental injury. Under the bill, revenue from drilling operations on public lands would be split evenly between maintenance for state parks, the original rationale advanced for drilling there, and funding the popular Clean Ohio program.
Environmental groups rightly protested the perverse logic, proceeds from drilling on park and other public lands, with the risk of lasting damage, used in the name of environmental cleanups and preservation projects.
Voters who approved two Clean Ohio ballot measures, in 2000 and 2008, supported cleaning up polluted industrial sites, conserving open space and farmlands and building recreational trails through state bond issues, not drilling in parks.
There is no reason to move forward with plans to drill on any public lands in Ohio, for any reason. Plenty of private sites are under lease, the state experiencing an energy boom.
Yes, there is a maintenance backlog in the state parks of about $500 million; and, yes, the goals of Clean Ohio are widely supported. The truth is, other funding sources are available. The state could float more bonds for Clean Ohio or revise its tax structure, say, modestly increasing severance taxes on natural resources, a portion of the new revenue going to adequately fund state parks, on which so many Ohioans rely.