The Ohio State Senate this week passed a bill deeming natural gas a form of “green energy” and eased the leasing of state lands by fossil-fuel companies. 

Sponsored by State Representative J. Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield), the measure’s main feature is an unrelated agricultural policy reducing the minimum number of poultry chicks sold or transferred in Ohio from six to three. Lawmakers embraced that change based on the advice of the poultry industry and that of adults supervising children in 4-H agriculture programs who want to make smaller purchases for their farm projects. 

After the legislation passed the State House of Representatives 96-0 in April, the State Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee amended the bill to curtail the onerous state approval process that drillers face when seeking to utilize state-owned areas. The amended version passed the committee five-to-one on Wednesday, with only State Senator Dale Martin (D-Cleveland) opposing it.

The full chamber’s vote was 22 to 7, with all Democrats in opposition and all Republicans in support except for State Senator Matt Dolan (R-Chagrin Falls). 

State lawmakers initially approved fossil-fuel drilling underneath state lands roughly a decade ago. The terms of that policy stipulate that the extracting company must drill into the earth outside the public land and reach the natural-gas deposit horizontally so animal and plant life on the state property remains unaffected. 

The Ohio Oil and Gas Association raised concerns that leasing state lands for fossil-fuel drilling often takes too long. According to floor remarks by State Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), the association asked legislators to consider language allowing drillers to activate their leases more quickly. The version of the bill state senators passed this week would facilitate that but would not permit companies to bore holes on state grounds. 

“To be clear, this amendment does not allow for surface drilling in any state lands and does not provide a carte blanche drilling in state lands,” Schaffer said. “So, when you go to your state parks, nothing changes. Visually, it’s going to be the same state park you saw one year ago, ten years ago, whatever it might be.” 

Schaffer also applauded an amendment to the bill recognizing natural gas as green energy insofar as its use results in far lower carbon emissions than oil or coal burning does. The U.S. Energy Information Administration calls natural gas “a relatively clean burning fossil fuel.” The state senator noted that the European Union voted in July to affirm natural gas is an “environmentally sustainable” form of energy. 

“Ohio and the U.S. need to keep pace with that development in Europe,” he said. 

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) attempted unsuccessfully to persuade colleagues to oppose the legislation because of its energy-policy provisions. 

“While I was prepared to support this underlying bill, this legislation was amended in committee with some troubling results,” he said. “This amendment cuts out [the] public in the important process of deciding if and how drilling occurs in our state parks which should be protected and not exploited. This dangerous policy would create an end run on leasing state lands for the purpose of oil and gas exploration and essentially encourages corporations to submit applications to lease state lands as soon as possible.” 

The legislation awaits a concurrence vote in the State House before it can be sent to Governor Mike DeWine (R) for his signature. 

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Ohio Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Natural Gas Drilling” by World Resources Institute. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.