Watch an earlier NBC4 report about a fracking expansion law taking effect in Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – An Ohio law loosening restrictions on oil and gas companies’ ability to drill under state parks can remain in place for now, a Franklin County judge ruled last week.
On April 10, Judge Kimberly Cocroft denied environmental groups’ request that she temporarily block the state’s enforcement of House Bill 507, dubbed the “chicken bill,” whose provisions make it easier for oil and gas companies to get green-lit for a fracking lease in Ohio’s state parks.
The lawsuit – filed by the Ohio Environmental Council, Sierra Club, Buckeye Environmental Network and Ohio Valley Allies one day before the law took effect – contends that state lawmakers skirted constitutional requirements when considering HB 507, which plaintiffs say forces state agencies to grant an oil or gas company’s request for a fracking lease, regardless of an applicant’s qualifications.
“The vitality of our public lands is essential to our own well-being,” said Nathan Johnson, an attorney and public lands director for the Ohio Environmental Council. “No one wants to experience visual blight or breathe in toxic air pollution when out on the trail. Our parks are often our best refuge for health and relaxation. These public resources must be protected.”
Cocroft, however, dismissed the environmental advocates’ claims that expanded drilling could corrupt Ohio’s public land and those who enjoy it.
Since HB 507 took effect this month, Cocroft pointed to the fact that no company has submitted a proposal to frack in a state park, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Andy Chow.
Plus, given the “very few leases” that have been granted since 2011 – the year fracking in state parks was first legalized – Cocroft argued that HB 507 does not present an “immediate or irreparable harm” that must be remedied with a temporary restraining order.
“The Court finds that any reference regarding an injury to the recreational, cultural, and aesthetic interests in the lands to the plaintiffs’ members is speculative, at best, and does not constitute an immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage,” Cocroft wrote.
In December, four months prior to HB 507’s implementation, Texas-based Encino Energy offered the state up to $2 billion in royalties and signing bonuses for the right to drill under Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County, according to records provided by the ODNR.
The company’s request was denied, however, because the state’s Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, which oversees the leasing process, has yet to finalize rules governing the administration of those leases, Chow said. Until those regulations are solidified, the commission cannot receive future applications.
HB 507 was originally introduced as a bill reducing the number of poultry chicks that can be sold in lots – hence its nickname the “chicken bill.” In December, lawmakers tacked on a slew of amendments, including expediting the fracking leasing process and redefining natural gas as “green energy.”
Megan Hunter, an Earthjustice attorney who is representing the Ohio Environmental Council, said the plaintiffs are waiting on Cocroft to rule on the merits of HB 507 (whether it is constitutional under Ohio law), as well as the groups’ request that she issue a preliminary injunction to block it from being enforced.
“We’ll continue to fight this in court,” Hunter said.
Attorney General David Yost’s office, whose attorneys are defending HB 507 against the environmental groups’ suit, did not respond to NBC4’s request for comment.