Environmental groups released a document Monday they say indicates that Gov. John Kasich’s office was involved in drafting a 2012 state plan to promote hydraulic fracturing in Ohio state parks and forests, complete with a Nixon-style enemies list.
On Aug. 20, 2012, Wayne Struble, Kasich’s director of policy, sent invitations to eight of Kasich’s senior staffers, plus top administrators in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Those invited from Kasich’s office included Communications Director Scott Millburn, Chief of Staff Beth Hansen, senior adviser Jai Chabria, former director of legislative affairs Matt Carle (now Kasich’s campaign manager), and former policy adviser Craig Butler (now director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency).
The document, released by ProgressOhio and the Sierra Club, appears to contradict an earlier statement by Kasich’s office on the matter.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told the Columbus Dispatch in an article published Saturday that “the governor’s office had never seen the plan.”
In the article, ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said the report was prepared for internal discussion only. He said he was unfamiliar with the report and had no explanation for why it was never put in place.
Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for ODNR said in an email to the Beacon Journal on Monday that, “The Legislature approved the leasing of state land for oil and gas mineral extraction in 2011. This initial draft was a communication plan drafted for the rollout of the new law in the event our land was subject to leasing.
“Ultimately, it was never implemented because there is no horizontal drilling in state parks, and it was used instead solely for discussion purposes. Frankly, any agency or business that would announce a major policy decision without a strategic plan is setting itself up for failure.”
Efforts to contact Nichols for additional comment Monday, a legal holiday, were unsuccessful.
In June 2011, Ohio lawmakers approved drilling in state parks, but Kasich has never filled the posts on a new state panel that would oversee such activity.
“John Kasich is a bully. He’s looking more like Ohio’s answer to [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie,” said Brian Rothenberg, ProgressOhio’s executive director. “First came the plans to make life tough for those that disagree with him, and now the endless staff cover-ups.”
The 13-page state document included detailed plans for various agencies in the Kasich administration to “marginalize” drilling opponents by teaming up with “current and potential” allies in its effort, including JobsOhio, the Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Health, Halliburton, national, state and some local chambers of commerce, the Youngstown Vindicator and several other news outlets. (The Beacon Journal was not named.)
The document, included in materials released to the Sierra Club by ODNR after a public records request, said the state’s plan was to “build understanding, foster support, counter opponents’ criticism and minimize public concerns about the initiative” to drill on state-owned lands.
Such efforts to drill on state-owned land “will be met with zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists,” the report says.
It outlines a comprehensive strategy to “marginalize” those on a lengthy fracking public relations list, including the Sierra Club, the Ohio Environmental Council, OMBWatch and some state legislators.
The plan said neutral parties, such as ordinary citizens concerned about their families’ health, will be “vulnerable to messaging by opponents that the initiative represents dangerous and radical state policy by Gov. Kasich.”
Anti-fracking activists should be expected to halt drilling through legal and physical means, create public panic about perceived health risks, slant news coverage against drilling and blur the public perception of ODNR’s regulatory role, the report says.
Said Rothenberg: “What is outrageous is that the document both recognizes the regulatory role of ODNR and then goes on to list the very organizations it regulates as allies in their propaganda campaign to drill in state parks. It is bad enough that corporations influence policy through ALEC and Citizens United, but these are full-stop Nixonian tactics.”
Brian Kunkemoeller of the Sierra Club said the document represents “unprecedented collusion between oil and gas companies and the agencies that regulate them. This isn’t just bad news for our parks and forests. It is bad news for our democracy.”
The report only looks at drilling in two state parks — Barkcamp in Belmont County and Wolf Run in Noble County — plus one state forest: Sunfish Creek in Monroe County.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.