Who is protecting Ohioans in the fracking debate?

10:15 AM, Feb 10, 2012   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- Natural gas and oil companies are buying up big tracts of Ohio land on top of natural gas and oil-rich shale.

The process of "fracking" uses horizontal drilling, pumping water and chemicals into the ground to get the fossil fuel.

And some are concerned the process is moving too fast and may jeopardize the environment and nearby residents.

"Big oil is perfectly capable of looking out for itself. Regular Ohioans need to know someone is looking out for them," said Dale Butland of Innovation Ohio.

The group has done a study that raises questions and offers ideas for state lawmakers to consider.

Fracking is a big part of Governor John Kasich's economics plan.

In his State of the State address, he vowed to protect the environment but stressed the economic benefits.

"There's billions of dollars of investment...we cannot let our fears outweigh the potential," he said.

The watchdog group, Common Cause,  has studied the lobbying and campaign contributions made by the gas and oil industry.

It found in the last ten years, the industry has spent $747 million  lobbying lawmakers and making campaign gifts.

House Speaker John Boehner got almost $187,000.

Former Congressman and now-Governor John Kasich got about $214,000.

Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder got more than $71,000.

James Browning of Common Cause says the donations are made to get access, influence and to minimize regulations.

"There's a very strong incentive to get the wells in the ground and get the money out....the biggest thing the fracking industry wants is to frack first and ask questions later," he said.

Innovation Ohio claims Ohio's tax on natural gas and oil is "laughably low, the second lowest in the country," according to Butland.

Ohio charges three cents per thousand cubic feet of gas and 20 cents a barrel for oil.

It does not measure fuel extracted, relying on an industry honor system.

State Senator Robert Hagan, an industry critic, calls that "beyond outrage..laughable."

It's proposing the same rate as industry-friendly Texas, claiming the increased revenue could cover road damage and new infrastructure and still have lots of money left to help struggling cities and school systems.

Innovation Ohio is also recommending a state-enforced Landowners' Bill of Rights to protect property owners selling to oil companies.

And it's proposing a "Hire Ohio" tax incentive plan to get oil companies to train and hire Ohioans for jobs.

"Many jobs are going to out of state folks, particularly from Texas and Louisiana...Ohioans are being told, we really don't have time to train you," Butland said.

The Innovation Ohio report can be viewed at www.innovationohio.org/fracking.

The Common Cause report is at www.commoncause.org/fracking 2012.

Congressional and state legislative candidates will be caught in the middle of the jobs vs. environment debate this election year.

WKYC-TV

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