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Ohio Agency Tasked With Limiting Fracking On Public Lands Was Actually Planning To Promote It

By Katie Valentine

"Ohio Agency Tasked With Limiting Fracking On Public Lands Was Actually Planning To Promote It"

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The Ohio Department of Natural Resources developed a plan to promote fracking and drilling in state parks and forests while regulating the practice at the same time, according to a document leaked by the governor’s administration.

The memo, which was drafted in 2012 but was never implemented by the state government, outlines a plan to convince Ohio residents of the benefits of opening up public lands to resource extraction. It also makes note of probable sources of opposition to the drilling, including environmental activists, which the memo refers to as “skilled propagandists” who will put up “zealous resistance.”

“Vocal opponents of this initiative will react emotionally, communicate aggressively to the news media and online, and attempt to cast it as unprecedented and risky state policy,” the memo reads, adding that this opposition will require “aggressive” communications from the Ohio DNR to inform the public about the safety of the plan. The memo also warned that anti-fracking activists would “attempt to create public panic” about the health risks of fracking and drilling, which would require more sustained messaging from the DNR.

The memo aimed to promote the economic benefits of opening parks and forests to fracking and to convince the public that the practice would solve long-standing problems in Ohio, including creating “thousands of new jobs” and providing funds for new park infrastructure like bathrooms and camp grounds.

The memo was leaked on Friday, and when Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration was initially asked about it by the Columbus Dispatch, an administration spokesman said the governor’s office had never seen the memo. However, after a 2012 email from the Kasich administration seeking a meeting about the pro-fracking PR campaign became public, it became clear that the administration did know about the plan.

“Of course, the administration is going to coordinate and plan ahead on an important issue like gas production on state land,” Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told the Columbus Dispatch.

Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for ODNR, told the Akron Beacon Journal that the memo was meant to create a communication plan for when the state began leasing state-owned park land for resource extraction, a practice the state legislature approved in 2011. So far, though, there has been no drilling on public land in Ohio, and a poll taken at the time of the legislature’s vote in 2011 showed that 70 percent of Ohioans opposed drilling on public lands.

“Ultimately, it was never implemented because there is no horizontal drilling in state parks, and it was used instead solely for discussion purposes,” McCorkle said. “Frankly, any agency or business that would announce a major policy decision without a strategic plan is setting itself up for failure.”

Though the plan was never implemented, Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgressOhio, said the memo’s messaging concerned him. His organization and the Sierra Club’s Ohio chapter have called for an investigation into the memo.

“This is a PR campaign that appears to have the regulator working with those they regulate to silence the voices of those who may have legitimate policy concerns about this. And that’s not the American way,” Rothenberg told the Columbus Dispatch. “In 28 years in Columbus, I’ve never seen a document from a state agency that has a hit list of people to message against, and I’ve never seen a document so open about working with the regulated industries from the regulator.”

Though there’s so far been no fracking in Ohio’s state parks, the process of pumping fracking wastewater into underground wells in other parts of the state has been linked to earthquakes.

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