By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio legislators took a step toward allowing fracking in state parks, adding a provision in a pending budget that would strip the governor of the ability to control the issuing of licenses for the oil and gas drilling practice that has raised environmental concerns.
The provision, added on Tuesday by the Republican-controlled House, would allow the state legislature instead of the governor to control appointments to the Oil and Gas Commission responsible for issuing drilling licenses for state lands.
Governor John Kasich, a Republican, has not named any members to the four-member commission since signing the bill that created the group in 2011. This has effectively halted any fracking in parks.
Fracking opponents complained that the legislature was now trying to find a way to allow fracking without the proper safeguards to ensure public safety.
“It is an end run by Republicans in the legislature to facilitate more fracking and drilling in Ohio state parks,” David Leland, a Democratic state representative from Columbus who voted against the budget partly due to the measure, said on Wednesday.
Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into wells to fracture shale and release natural gas and oil. Critics say the practice has polluted water supplies, while backers say it supplies needed energy resources.
Proponents of the provision said it would not necessarily result in widespread drilling and fracking in state parks.
“The provision is simply an attempt to fill that committee,” Ben Miller, spokesman for the Ohio House Republicans, said on Wednesday.
Separately, four conservation groups have sued the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in an attempt to halt fracking plans in Ohio's only national forest.
Nearly a fifth of Ohio has geographical potential for shale gas drilling, said Nathan Johnson, public director of the Ohio Environmental Council, an environmental group.
The proposed budget must be approved by the Republican-controlled state senate by July 1.
Kasich spokeswoman Emmalee Kalmbach would not comment on whether Kasich would use a line-item veto to kill the provision. In an email, Kalmbach said only that the governor does not weigh in on pending legislation, but is confident he can work with lawmakers to “find the right way forward, preserve our jobs-friendly climate and show the world that Ohio can manage its affairs well in the face of all kinds of challenges.”
(Reporting by Kim Palmer, Editing by Ben Klayman and David Gregorio)