LOGAN, Ohio (WCMH) — If an Ohio bill passes, hikers traversing the paths of Hocking Hills and other state parks might soon have to share the trails with another type of park patron: Oil and gas companies.
House Bill 507, or ‘The Chicken Bill,’ was meant to reduce the minimum number of poultry chicks that can be sold in lots, but an amendment to the bill that passed 22-7 on the Ohio Senate floor on Wednesday would expedite the process for oil and gas companies to get a fracking lease in state parks. The bill also defines natural gas as green energy.
“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,” Sen. Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) said.
But supporters of the amendment argue it would minimally impact park-goers’ experiences, as the drilling wouldn’t occur on state park property — the companies would rather be able to extract the natural gas underneath state parks.
“When you go to your state parks, nothing changes,” Sen. Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster) said. “Visually, it’s the same state park you saw a year ago, ten years ago.”
A decade ago, the legislature approved drilling under state land, but Schaffer said the process to begin fracking has faced roadblocks.
“This narrows language to address the delays in leasing state land parcels,” Schaffer said. “And we’ve had significant delays.”
But Yuko said the amendment is not clear enough and would allow gas companies that apply to drill to automatically be fracking-eligible.
“That removes state agencies’ discretion to decide whether or not to lease state parks and public lands on oil and gas corporations,” Yuko said. “Under this legislation, state agencies will now be forced to.”
Visitors to Hocking Hills State park told NBC4 that they don’t think fracking should be done at or near state parks.
“State parks are here for a reason, for hiking, for camping,” Tyler Bledsoe said. “For nature to be nature.”
Under the bill, fracking towers would be located on non-park land, but companies would drill under the land to extract natural gas from it. The park-goers NBC4 spoke with were split as to whether the technical location of the fracking tower mattered.
“I can see where they’re coming from in a fracking aspect and trying to find resources, but these state parks are gems,” Brianna Lemney said.
Blesdoe said he thinks the construction noise would negatively impact visitors and wildlife — perhaps for years to come. Others, however, were more willing to give oil and gas companies the benefit of the doubt.
“If it didn’t really bother the beauty of the state parks and the trails were still here, I’d probably still come,” Lonnie Vilkas said. “I just want the natural beauty to stay like it is.”
The bill now heads back to the Ohio House for a vote on the amendments.