The Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives passed HB 133 by a 54-41 vote on Wednesday. The measure opens land owned by the state -- including state parks -- to oil and gas leasing and creates a five-member Oil and Gas Leasing Commission.
The bill now moves on to the state Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans.
House legislators debated the bill for several hours, with the Republican majority swatting away several attempts to add amendments that would have prohibited some drilling.
"You've heard that fracking has been around for a long time," Rep. Dennis Murray (D-Sandusky) said in opposition to the bill. "Well, that's a lot like holding up one of these iPhones and saying that Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone 135 years ago. It's very different. This is something new and unconventional. We're not ideologically opposed to drilling or fracking, but our parks are the wrong place to experiment."
The debate then took a nasty turn, with Murray and other Democrats accusing Republicans of voting for HB133 because they received campaign contributions from the energy industry.
"Huge campaign contributions are the sophisticated sibling of bribery itself," Murray said.
Republicans countered that Democrats outspent them by a 2-to-1 margin in the last election.
"Those accusations ring pretty hollow," Rep. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said of the campaign contribution issue. "Natural resources are one of the things that made Ohio economically powerful. The attempt over the last 30 years to tamp down the use of those resources is one of the reasons Ohio has been in decline. We know we're on the verge of the discovery of this great gas resource, and we're in a position to become the economic power that we were. If this gas boom takes off, there aren't going to be enough hotels, houses and restaurants to handle all of the people who are going to be coming to this state."
Republican Gov. John Kasich reportedly supports HB 133 and said it would help Ohio handle an $8 billion deficit. The state budget bill, HB 153, also calls for allowing oil and gas drilling on state-owned land. HB 153 passed a third consideration vote in the House on May 5 (see Shale Daily, May 23; March 8).
Ohio law currently allows some oil and gas drilling in forests and wildlife areas owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The department controls more than 590,000 acres in the state, which includes parks, forests and wildlife areas. Drilling rights are already owned on roughly 25,000 acres, most in state forests. Mineral rights were severed on another 70,000 acres when the ODNR took ownership.