To drill or not to drill: Commission to consider leasing state park land

Dan Davis Dix Communications Published:

COLUMBUS — In the search for greater revenues in the current period of economic upheaval and uncertainty the State of Ohio looked to capitalize on gas and oil developments in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

Several weeks ago Gov. John Kasich signed into law legislation creating a state oil and gas leasing commission tasked with considering and granting leases of state property — including state parks but excluding state nature preserves — to gas and oil developers and producers.

The commission will consider the environmental, geologic, tourism and other impacts before finalizing leases.

Proceeds from leases, signing fees, rentals and royalty payments will be applied toward the purchase of land and improvements to parks and other state property.

Proponents of the legislation argue that revenues generated from drilling lease could fund much-needed infrastructure upgrades and repairs at state parks. According to the ODNR, parks have more than $500 million in deferred maintenance projects as of 2010, requiring a specific revenue stream to address.

Deferred maintenance projects, according to online ODNR documents, include:

• Waste water system upgrades — $50,336,440

• Shoreline erosion rebuilding and control — $83,635,200

• Dam modernization — $72,600,000

• Modernize vault rest rooms to flush — $47,898,840

• Major renovations to resort lodges — $39,001,600

• Add electric service in campgrounds — $28,862,403

• Cottage renovations and upgrades — $21,268,060.

Opponents of expanded drilling on state-owned property cite environmental concerns. Some legislators have called for a halt to all developments, including formation of the oversight commission, pending research that definitively indicates drilling offers no threat to environmental well-being.

At risk, opponents say, is the Ohio State Park System, the third most-visited state park system in the nation. It includes: 75 state parks in 60 counties; 174,264 land and water acres; 1,030 miles of shoreline; more than 50,000,000 “visitor occasions” annually; 57 state park campgrounds; nearly 10,000 family campsites; nine resort lodges; 518 cottages; six golf courses; 178 boat ramps; 78 beaches; 37 nature and visitor centers; 193 playgrounds; 408 trails covering 1,185 miles; and 1,858 miles of roadways. (Statistics taken from the ODNR website.)

However, the launch of drilling in state parks is not hovering just beyond the horizon, ready to burst into reality at a moment’s notice.

“They have not started drilling,” said David Hill, treasurer/secretary and vice president-elect of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. “They have not yet populated the commission, they have not yet picked the members and started the process of the commission. The law has passed. We’re waiting on the commission to be established so they can establish the rules and guidelines of the bidding process and how this is going to work.”

The process to form the commission is moving at a sluggish pace.

“We are not rushing into it,” Hill said. “The fact is, I’m disappointed that it hasn’t progressed more rapidly. And I think as Ohioans we would hope it would move a little quicker because the State of Ohio owns those royalties and maybe that would hope with our budget items.”

The state owns 600,000 acres of land. Two-hundred-thousand acres show promise of producing gas and oil. Of this, 10 percent lies in Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County.

“If we’re looking for increased revenue there is a source that is sitting idle at this point,” Hill said.

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