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Ohio Senate Delays Debate on More Energy-Related Legislation

An omnibus bill making its way through Ohio's General Assembly that critics argued had ballooned into legislation catering to special interests, including the oil and gas industry, has stalled in the state Senate, where lawmakers said they need more time to sift through its hundreds of pages.

HB 490 had made its way through the state House of Representatives, beginning as part of Republican Gov. John Kasich's review of agriculture, environment and natural resource policy, for eight months before passing in November by a vote of 71-18 (see Shale Daily, Nov. 20). With roughly a month to consider the legislation, state Senate leaders decided it needed to be tabled until next year.

"After consulting with my colleagues, I've decided the Senate will not act on HB 490 during this legislative session," said Republican state Senate President Keith Faber. "We simply need more time to consider the substantive issues contained in the 264-page document, and time is not our ally in a lame duck session."

As written, the bill would affect mining interests, oil and gas, other large water users and even the telecommunications industry.

"What began as the Kasich administration's promising strengthening of agricultural and environmental policy sadly devolved to a grab bag of giveaways to a handful of narrow special interests," said Ohio Environmental Council Deputy Director Jack Shaner. "Ohio Senate leaders were wise to set it aside."

The oil and gas industry had pushed successfully to weaken penalty provisions proposed by Kasich, including civil and criminal penalties in current state law. Some lawmakers have been pushing since early last year for steeper regulatory penalties in the wake of a dumping incident in Youngstown, OH, in which it was learned that a local oilfield services company had indirectly emptied tens of thousands of gallons of brine and other wastewater into a river there (see Shale Daily, Feb. 19, 2013).

Water-users had also pushed for and won a provision in the House bill for general permits to pump from Lake Erie tributaries in the state, but criminal penalties would also have been enhanced for violations of the Water Pollution Control Law.

A delay in the Senate also means that a suggestion from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency that would strengthen the Ohio Department of Natural Resources ability to share more trade secret information with emergency responders regarding additives used in the unconventional drilling process will have to wait, too.

Another provision that was expected to give producers in the state a boost will also wait. It would allow operators to unitize land owned by the Ohio Department of Transportation, such as roads and highways, that house lawmakers said were becoming a nuisance in establishing drilling units in the state (see Shale Daily, Nov. 17).

"I came to this decision reluctantly as I know many people have worked long hours to move HB 490 through the legislative process," Faber said. "We are absolutely committed to renewing the debate on these important issues at the outset of the new General Assembly in January."

Senate lawmakers said last month that a bill passed by the state House of Representatives in May to levy a 2.5% severance tax on oil and natural gas production would be delayed until the next session as well (see Shale Daily, Nov. 19; May 15).

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