(Posted by Trent Dougherty, Director of Legal Affairs, Ohio Environmental Council)
Yesterday, the Ohio House of Representatives’ Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, heard sponsor testimony during its First Hearing on three fracking related bills. Unfortunately, it will be the last time we hear of them.
Normally, three bills that provide support for local governments, safeguard property rights, and secure consumer protections would receive bi-partisan support and be on the Governor’s desk for signature in a heartbeat. However, because these bills deal with protecting landowners from the impacts of oil and gas drilling, they received one perfunctory hearing in the waning days of the 129th General Assembly.
These three bills (HB537, HB493, and HB528) could go a long way in protecting Ohio landowners from unscrupulous landmen, preventing drillers withholding royalties from landowners, and handing back shared health and safety oversight of fracking to local communities. Instead, they receive one hearing in which the sponsor of the bill has one chance to defend his or her legislation. And these bills will die a quick and quiet death in Committee – an all too familiar fate for bills sponsored by legislators from the substantially outnumbered Minority party in the Ohio House.
The first of the bills, HB537 seeks to bring at least a little bit of local control back to the communities in Ohio’s Gaslands – a right that was taken away from local governments in 2004. One of OEC’s Public Servants of the Year, Representative Robert Hagan (D-Youngstown), sponsored this bill and argued before the Committee that loss of local control has resulted in private property violations, and thus at least some shared oversight should be given back to local governments.
The lead sponsor of the other two bills, Representative Mark Okey (D-Carrollton), presented his defense of HB493 and HB528 as a “wake up call” for the Ohio Legislature on issues he sees firsthand in Carroll County — the epicenter of drilling in Ohio. Representative Okey’s legislation would:
- Require registration of landmen and require them to disclose information about the lease and other important information that any other real estate agent would be required to disclose;
- Require audits of oil and gas production numbers to make sure landowners receive the full amount of royalties;
- Increase setbacks from unleased neighboring property;
- Require pre-and post-drilling groundwater testing;
- Create a 15% minimum royalty;
- Require full fracking chemical disclosure.
Although Representative Okey will not be back for the 130th General Assembly next year, he testified that he has received a promise from Governor Kasich that many of the landowner protections in HB493 will appear in the Governor’s biennial budget bill to be introduced in February, 2013.
OEC will continue to be a watchdog at the Statehouse during the next General Assembly. We will fight to to make sure that these landowner protections do, in fact, appear in the Governor’s Budget Bill and that the House and Senate enact them and other necessary protections for citizens living in Ohio’s gaslands.