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February 20, 2014

Frackgate: Ohio Governor's Campaign to Frack Parks

Natural gasOhio governor John Kasich finds himself embroiled in a growing scandal that some are calling "Frackgate" because of a PR-plan co-written by his administration and the oil industry to "proactively open state park and forest land" to fracking. The Sierra Club was dismayed (but proud) to find ourselves at the top of a list of opposition targets, along with two state representatives and eight other public interest partner groups.

It's the very definition of corruption when the governor partners with oil industry right-wingers to target public interest groups, even state legislators, to frack Ohio's state parks. Across the U.S. communities are standing up to oppose fracking on public and private lands. Many states and cities are rethinking this dangerous practice, implementing moratoriums or banning the process altogether. The Ohio administration, instead, got into the PR business, allowing corporate polluters to write the state environmental agency’s pro-fracking script. Fracking threatens our property, public lands, climate and our health. Now we can add the insidious threat of the oil and gas industry controlling our democracy to the list of dangers from fracking.
 
The PR plan was uncovered by the Ohio Sierra Club Chapter as we looked into Kasich administration mismanagement of the regulatory process that would open public lands to fracking. The administration tried to put the news "out with the trash" by releasing it last Friday afternoon. But the governor is not going to walk away from this problem so easily.

In 2011 the Ohio legislature opened state parks and forests to fracking, but required that the administration first create a five member state oil and gas leasing commission. The commission was never formed, though the administration did move forward with permits for fracking on public lands. We discovered evidence through an Ohio Open Records Request that the Kasich administration coordinated with oil and gas industry lobbyists on a public deception PR campaign to "marginalize” opponents to fracking and convince Ohioans of the benefits of fracking public parks and forests. The plan names targets include Ohio Sierra Club, OMB Watch, Ohio Environmental Council, and even elected officials State Senators Bob Hagan and Nickie Antonio.
 
Keep the Frack out of my WaterThe 13-page pro-fracking public relations strategy titled, "Oil and Gas state lands leasing: Draft Outline for Communication Plan" was written by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the governor’s staff, in alliance with industry giant Halliburton, and lobbying groups like Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the American Natural Gas Association, and JobsOhio, a right-wing pro-fracking political pressure group. The governor, taking a page from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's playbook, denied knowing about the plan or implementing it. But it was the Governor's top staffers who convened the meeting where the strategy was created. The invitees to the August 20, 2012 "State Lands Leasing, Strategy and Communications" meeting, held in the Governor's main conference room, included Governor Kasich's director of policy, communications director, and reelection campaign director, plus the director of Ohio Department of Natural Resources and several of top agency staff.

This week the Governor Kasich reversed himself on fracking in state parks, admitting that the 'regulatory structure' is not 'mature' enough to allow fracking in Ohio's parks. We agree. But the Sierra Club and our 2.4 million members and supporters understand that what is too dangerous for our parks is too dangerous for all public lands or our backyards too. And everyone will agree that public officials shouldn't be colluding with the oil and gas industry to force fracking down our throats.

When the governor is ready to stop working for the frackers and start working for the people, there are three immediate steps that must be taken:

  1. Ohio must institute a moratorium on fracking until the state can guarantee a clear and objective path protecting the public, wildlife and our public lands.
  2. We demand a thorough ethics investigation into the administration's use of a public agency and public funds to promote the interests of the oil and gas industry.
  3. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must take immediate action to investigate conflicts of interest by Ohio agencies involved and suspend of the state's delegation to oversee waste disposal under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

 The Kasich administration chose to ally itself with the oil and gas industry against public health and safety, to discredit public interest groups and try to dupe Ohioans in their rush to frack our public parks and forests. These are the places that we hike, hunt, fish and picnic with our families. They should not be ground zero for dangerous oil and gas fracking, and the governor of Ohio has no business working with the oil and gas industry to push the industry’s dangerous agenda over the health and safety of Ohioans.

-- Co-written by Beyond Natural Gas Director Deb Nardone and Ohio Sierra Club Conservation Program Coordinator Brian Kunkemoeller.

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