Which do you think of when you hear "state park"?
Both backpacking and fracking are associated with previously protected state lands. Ohio recently passed a bill legalizing drilling on all state land, including land that has been designated as a state park. Senate's approval of Bill 133 hit home for me as a native Ohioan who has spent a great deal of time enjoying the state's parks.
The bill would allow drilling for oil and gas to occur in the state's forests, parks and other state lands. During deliberations, many representatives advised that Lake Erie should be exempted from the bill, but the exemption was voted down.
The state is home to part of the Marcellus Shale Formation, which has already been accessed for oil in many states, including New York and Pennsylvania. Previously, however, many sections of the shale formation were located directly beneath Ohio's state lands and were, therefore, inaccessible.
Those in favor of the bill have said that tapping into the shale formation would help Ohio dig itself out of its current budget crisis -- the state has an $8 billion dollar budget shortfall. Additionally, 30 percent of proceeds from drilling on state park land must be given back to the state park fund, so state parks would see a portion of the profits.
Proponents of the bill also assert that drilling has been occurring near the state parks for years, sometimes even depleting resources directly below the parks. They claim that allowing drilling within parks and state lands would help bring the industry out of its budgetary crisis, create jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
Opponents point to the environmental concerns involved in such legislation. Some drilling procedures, such as fracking, have been reported to cause contaminated groundwater. People have reported being able to light their tap water on fire following local fracking procedures -- and video footage exists that seems to support the claims. In cases in which contamination was said to have occurred, companies have sometimes offered to clean up the contaminated water, but can water that can be set on fire really be made drinkable?
All of this news seems to divide people, and pit supporters of using our shale resources against supporters of alternative energy sources. The fact that some drilling methods are reportedly contaminating drinking water and the fact that oil leaks and spills are ever-present in our media contributes to this energy anxiety. And what does this mean for the oil industry? Well, for oil companies in particular, it means that a number of people have become increasingly distrustful of current methods.
Oil spills are, unfortunately, not uncommon. ExxonMobil recently had an oil spill in Montana's Yellowstone River, and the company is still unsure how the oil spill occurred. The spill released about 1,000 barrels of oil into the river, only about 100 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park. That much oil being so close to such a beautiful national park is jolting, but it is equally distressing that oil spills would now have the potential to occur directly inside Ohio's state parks, not only downstream.
The possible dangers associated with fracking and drilling have worried people for years. Yet, allowing the procedures to take place in state parks has taken the debate to an entirely new level. If state parks are not allowed to remain untapped and somewhat undisturbed, then some may wonder, what's next?
I was surprised to hear that Ohio is not the first state to allow drilling in state parks and lands; Pennsylvania recently allowed it as well. According to the Plain Dealer, "Pennsylvania collected $128 million last year by leasing drilling rights in its forests and recently allowed drilling in its parks." It seems that accessing shale beneath state parks is not an entirely new development -- but now a whole new state is divided about the consequences of state park drilling.
The recent decision has left me with a lot of questions. What are the environmental implications of the bill? Would drilling in parks help Ohio's economy and create jobs? And, if the environmental implications are severe, would the proposed economic benefits of the bill outweigh any negative environmental impacts? And, if I'm asking these questions, I'm assuming I'm not alone.
In my opinion, if drilling is going to be allowed in state parks (or anywhere, for that matter), oil companies should be held accountable for any spills that occur, and every aspect of the cleanup process should be paid for by the company. Also, any drilling equipment should be kept somewhere where it is mostly concealed, and drilling should be done as quietly as possible -- focusing on a park's beauty would be impossible otherwise.
And finally, honesty about the results of drilling methods would go a long way. If companies provide evidence that the drilling methods are safe, people will have no reason to worry. I'm a big fan of showing, not telling.
In the meantime, I'm crossing my fingers for Ohio. I hope that extreme care is practiced in state parks: I want to see flames in my campfire, not in my water.
What do you think? Let me know by e-mailing me at [email protected].