Ohio Senate OK's fracking in state parks
By Jim Siegel
The Columbus Dispatch
Friday June 17, 2011 5:32 AM
The Ohio Senate tackled a pair of controversial measures yesterday, one allowing oil and gas drilling in state parks and the other permitting Ohioans to opt out of a new federal requirement that they purchase health insurance.
Looking to cut into almost $500 million in backlogged maintenance projects at its state parks, the Senate voted to open parks and some other public land to drilling, giving Ohio lease payments and one-eighth of the royalties of what some say are expansive resources, particularly under parks in southeastern Ohio.
Some warned that the hydraulic fracturing technique - chemical-laced water is used to force gas from shale deposits deep in the ground - is unproven and could have significant environmental consequences. But supporters insist the technique is safe and far below groundwater deposits.
"Energy production in our state is more important now than it has ever been before," Sen. Kris Jordan, R-Powell said, adding that in 2010, Pennsylvania got $128 million from leased state lands for drilling, and more recently, Michigan received $178 million.
"This provides the potential benefit of hundreds of millions of dollars with little or no risk to the state," Jordan said prior to the 22-10 vote.
Sen. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, unsuccessfully pushed for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until the federal Environmental Protection Agency completes its impact study on drinking water.
"There is limited experience in the state of Ohio and the country on this," he said. "When it has been done, there has been some significant environmental impacts."
Republicans defended the technique. "I have not seen any credible evidence of problems with 'fracking,'" said Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond. "There is a lot of misinformation."
The House soon will concur with the bill, and Gov. John Kasich supports it. The bill would create a five-member Oil and Gas Leasing Commission - four gubernatorial appointees and a department official - to oversee drilling on state-owned land and grant leases.
Environmental groups are concerned about damaging the natural beauty of state parks and that the commission, not the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, would have final say on whether drilling occurs.
Later, the Senate voted 24-9, largely along party lines, for a resolution that says no law can compel Ohioans to purchase health insurance. It now moves to the House, where Republicans would need Democratic help in getting the required three-fifths majority.
Whatever the resolution's fate, the Ohio Republican Party has joined with tea-party groups in the drive to collect signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
"Regardless of the outcome in the legislature, we will continue our efforts to place this on the ballot through the initiative process," said Mike Wilson, president of the Cincinnati Tea Party.
Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, R-Chesterland, the sponsor of the resolution, said the idea is about letting the people of Ohio decide whether the federal health-care mandate is right for them.
"I am amazed by this idea that government knows better for us than we do," he said.
Jordan called the health-care law a huge overstep of power by the federal government.
"Nowhere in the constitution does it say that government can force you to buy any product," he said. "And no where does it say that health care is a constitutional right. I know a lot of young people who would choose not to buy health care."
Sen. Nina Turner, D-Cleveland, called the desire to provide health care for all a laudable goal and "morally right."
"Make no mistake about it, the people in this country, some of us are paying for the health care of the uninsured one way or another."
Col Owens and Cathy Levine, co-chairs of Ohio Consumers for Health Coverage, argued that the "personal responsibility provision is an important and critical piece of the Affordable Care Act because it allows for guaranteed health coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions."
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