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Both Sides React To Ohio's New Drilling Regulations

The legislature has passed a package that sets new regulations on oil and natural gas drillers who are rushing into Ohio to explore the state’s big Utica and Marcellus shale deposits. The energy bill was approved in the Senate in mid-May and sent over to the House. On the last day of session before the Memorial Day break, the bill hit the floor. It took two hours for the House to vote on the bill after proposing a few changes. And the debate didn’t start out on a positive note…. “I‘m not used to someone saying they want support for an amendment that they haven’t even explained it.â€? The comment from Democratic Rep. Matt Lundy of Elyria wouldn’t be the first complaint from Democrats about the energy bill and the changes in it from the Senate version. The bill sets rules on construction of oil and gas wells, on handling water used by the industry, and on the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Mark Okey of Carrollton – which is in the heart of the energy exploration boom in eastern Ohio – was concerned about what he felt was too much influence for oil and gas drillers. “I frankly think the industry is laughing at all of us. You guys think you made and drove a hard bargain? Oh, come on. After-the-fact disclosure of chemicals used in fracking is simply meaningless, folks.â€? But Republican Peter Stautberg from Cincinnati said the bill toughens existing laws but is fair to both drillers and the state. “There is a balance to be struck between the industry and the administration, and who oversees what and how much disclosure there is without hampering the industry to such an extent that it destroys the efforts of this state to take advantage of the natural resources upon which we sit,â€? he said. Environmental groups had stayed quiet about the bill. But with the addition of a provision that keeps the contents of secret chemical recipes used by companies with those companies and not with the state, they’re speaking out. Jack Shaner with the Ohio Environmental Council calls that the Halliburton amendment, and it’s infuriated him. “….Bunch of amendments no one saw, including the atrocious Halliburton amendment, tipped our balance. You know, we went from what could have been one of the strongest disclosure laws in the nation, ending up with one of the most radical assaults on public’s right to know in the nation. No way is that balanced. No way could we continue to be in a neutral position on that.â€? But a spokesman for the industry says he’s not totally happy either. “We certainly didn’t get everything we wanted in here.â€? Terry Fleming speaks for the Ohio Energy Resource Alliance, and he says the furor over disclosure is in some cases a smoke screen. “There are some people who just didn’t want this legislation to pass. They don’t like carbon fuels, they don’t want to see this develop and the chemical disclosure thing is something that they’ve all latched on to. In the end, we have the strongest chemical disclosure language in the country.â€? Gov. John Kasich is very pleased with the bill. After it passed the Senate, Kasich had criticized those who were blasting it. “Frankly I think they ought to be celebrating, because we’ve got now some of the toughest, clearest regulation in the country.â€? And Kasich now says in a statement that he is – quoting here – so excited about what this legislation accomplishes, and that – again quoting – “we’ll be better stewards of our environment because of it, and our kids and grandkids will thank us for it.â€?