Decision on fracking in state parks delayed after fake letters in support revealed

The Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission voted Monday to table consideration to permit fracking in two state parks and two wildlife areas after concerns arose that public comments used the names of residents from Dayton and elsewhere without their knowledge.

The commission met at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources where the majority of audience members were vocal in their opposition and interrupted the meeting a few times insisting that the commission deny the nominations for land leasing and mineral rights at Salt Fork State Park, Wolf Run State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area, and Zepernick Wildlife Area.

Opponents also held signs inside the meeting room and outside of the ODNR headquarters building, and at times the meeting was paused to regain order in the room.

The already contentious issue of fracking in state parks became even more controversial after and The Plain-Dealer reported that dozens of Ohioans whose names appear in letters to the commission supporting fracking say they never wrote the letters and many oppose fracking. The Ohio Attorney General is investigating.

The Dayton Daily News reached out to people from the Miami Valley whose names, addresses and phone numbers appear in comments to the commission in support of fracking in state parks.

Of 13 area residents in the 937 area code reached by the Dayton Daily News, 10 had no idea why they’re named as writing a letter of support. Many said they oppose the idea. Three others confirmed they did write a letter supporting fracking.

Some of the people contacted by the Dayton Daily News did not know what fracking is and were upset after they found out. Fracking is the process of freeing methane from shale thousands of feet underground using water, sand and chemicals at high pressure, technically known as hydraulic fracturing.

Another Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission meeting hasn’t been scheduled, giving opponents a temporary reprieve to a decision in the process to lease the state-owned park land.

At Monday’s meeting, the commission voted to approve nominations for land leasing to allow oil and gas exploration under land, including roadways, owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Commission chair Ryan Richardson said the Ohio General Assembly has determined these lands, including state parks, should be open for potential leasing.

During the meeting, she also said the Ohio Attorney General’s Office was made aware of disputed letters of support that were sent via email and has started an investigation. News media have reported as many as 150 pro-fracking letters were sent for public comment on the issue to the commission from people who say they never wrote or sent them.

State law requires the commission to consider public comments as well as other factors like current land uses and economics when considering a possible lease of public lands.

Richardson said the alleged wrongdoing should be investigated and noted that the commission does not have investigatory powers, which is why it was referred to the state attorney general’s office. She also said that Consumer Energy Alliance, the organization that is supporting the issue, has denied any wrongdoing.

She expressed concerned about fraudulent letters and said it is critical to have a transparent process. Richardson said a new online portal is in the process of opening later this year that will prioritize easy access in commenting and will have “heightened authentication.”

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