the Beacon Journal editorial board

John Kasich often has described Ohio’s regulations on oil and gas drilling as among the toughest in the nation. The governor’s assurances came as drilling activity rapidly increased, oil and gas companies using horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing to reach resources in deep shale formations. The scale of these operations is truly staggering, each well producing millions of gallons of waste water contaminated with drilling chemicals.

Unfortunately, the state Department of Natural Resources, which in June 2014 issued a list of rules it was crafting to provide improved oversight of oil and gas drilling, has not followed through. A recent report by the Columbus Dispatch showed that of 20 rules the agency was working on, only one is in place. It covers the construction of well pads.

Action by the department is especially important because local governments in Ohio have been stripped of any authority over oil and gas drilling. If the state fails to act, communities are left without a way to respond to concerns from their residents about potential environmental and health impacts. With such large-scale operations, even a single accident can have long-lasting consequences.

Still in the works at the department are rules covering recycling waste water from hydraulic fracturing, tracking it as it leaves the drilling site and setting a timetable for companies to report well leaks. Without stronger pressure from the governor and legislative leaders, necessary because of the strong influence of the oil and gas industry lobby, the state will have a regulatory framework far less robust than promised.

Another example of the industry’s clout was evident last fall, when a long-awaited legislative report recommended just a gradual phase-in of higher severance taxes, citing industry concerns that a tax increase would cripple drilling activity already dampened by low prices.

What the report also noted is that the state’s tax burden on drillers is now “lower than or as low as every other state with a severance tax.” For his part, the governor rightly has continued to propose a modest increase, shifting from a low, volume-based tax to a 6.5 percent rate based on current market prices.

Such a tax would place Ohio about in the middle of what other states charge, hardly an invitation for drillers to abandon rich deposits in the state.

Increased severance taxes would provide the revenue necessary to support a strong, sensible and wide-ranging regulatory system capable of heading off environmental and public health disasters before they happen. The report recommends using severance tax revenues to help local governments affected by hydraulic fracturing — and to fund additional income tax rate cuts.

The latter priority is badly misguided. Ohioans deserve both effective, comprehensive rules governing the taking of onetime resources and a tax system that ensures vigilant enforcement. Both deserve prompt attention from the governor and members of the legislature.