I’M HIKING THE WINDING PATHS and footbridges toward Cedar Falls at Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. I’m feeling a damp, soothing coolness on my face and forearms. It is ten degrees cooler in the gorges of Hocking Hills than outside the park. Cedar Falls pours like smooth cream from the rock. A crowd stands, staring with the fascination humans so often have for falling water.
There’s a stairwell to the right of the falls, and I climb it. Above the falls is silence. I wander through the trees, and they open into a patch of sun. White gravel chunks begin to show under the grass. It’s a road. Grass has grown over the stones. In the middle of the grass sits a bright orange gas pipeline. “Caution,” warns a sign on the pipe.
The Progressive sent me to see this Ohio state park. And it did so for two reasons: 1) It’s beautiful and beloved; 2) it could soon be an oil and gas drill site.
In late June, Ohio Republican Governor (and former prominent U.S. Republican Representative) John Kasich signed into law House Bill 133. The bill allows for leasing of state-owned land for oil and gas drilling. While a late amendment exempted nature preserves and natural areas, drills could soon bite into Ohio’s state forests, wilderness areas, and state parks.
What Kasich is doing to the environment in Ohio is in line with other assaults on the environment by rightwing Republican governors. (See sidebar on page 23.)
In Ohio, the drilling could include traditional oil and gas wells, but also the horizontal and deep-shale extraction process called hydrofracking.
Hydrofracking propels large amounts of water and chemicals under high pressure to force gas deposits from deep rock.
“Fracking fluid kills everything when it gets out into the environment,” says Cheryl Johncox, executive director of the Buckeye Forest Council, an environmental organization that opposes drilling in the Ohio state parks. And there are concerns about air quality near the wells. “Off-gassing is huge,” she says. She mentions the volatile organic compounds and the polycarbonates in the air emissions, such as benzene and toluene.
The drilling process requires “just a phenomenal number of support vehicles,” says Bob Shields, head of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club. “We’re talking about sending casings down up to a mile. Those casings have to be trucked in.” Hydrofracking also swallows water—“six million gallons per well. That has to be trucked in. That’s an awful lot of trucks.”
Ron Prosek, the vice president of the Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection, says fracking may soon be big in Ohio. The companies are “buying up leases like crazy here,” he says. A while ago, there were only seventy-two permits for the process, he says, but in the last eighteen months almost every county with significant shale deposits has seen between 1,000 and 3,000 leases.
While those leases are on private lands, Kasich and the Ohio legislature have now opened public lands, as well.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources sounds uncertain about opening Hocking Hills to oil and gas drilling. “You’re talking about an awful lot of sensitive habitat to consider” and a lot of visitors using the park, says Laura Jones, spokesperson for the agency. “We really do strive for a balance between wise use and protection and conservation of the resources. That is our mission.”
Just how the Ohio DNR will be able to regulate oil and gas leasing in state parks is also in question. Bill 133 set up a special committee to handle leasing. It will be composed of two members “recommended by a statewide organization representing the oil and gas industry,” one environmentalist, the state geologist, and “one member of the public with expertise in finance or real estate.” In its testimony on the bill, the Ohio DNR asked to maintain control over the leasing. But the legislature gave that power to the committee instead.
This is an excerpt from a much longer article, which appears in the November issue of The Progressive. To read the whole interview, and to get the entire issue, simply subscribe today for $14.97 for a year's worth of The Progressive. You'll save 75% off the newsstand price, and you'll get a FREE 2012 "Hidden History of the United States" calendar. Thanks from the staff of The Progressive!