COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — State lawmakers heard more than six hours of testimony Monday from environmentalists and others with concerns about a bill laying out Ohio's new regulations for horizontal shale drilling.
The House Public Utilities Committee has scheduled a tentative vote on the bill Tuesday. Besides rules for shale drilling, the wide-ranging legislation also adjusts the renewable energy standard to be met by Ohio electric utilities to include waste heat along with solar, wind and other alternatives.
The bill cleared the Ohio Senate last week with support of Republicans and some Democrats, and is now before the House.
Concern remains among environmental groups.
The bill requires that well operators disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, a technique that involves the high-pressure injection of water and chemicals into the ground to split rock apart and release natural gas or oil. Environmentalists say details will be scant, however, and reporting will come only after wells have been drilled.
The Natural Resources Defense Council also criticized the bill for removing the public's ability to appeal state-issued drilling permits.
NRDC environmental attorney Rick Sahli said language of the bill would require citizens to sue in order to challenge permits for well operators in their areas.
He said the bill is written to "clearly and categorically prevent" an Ohio citizen, local government or business from appealing gas well permits, including those for hydraulically fractured wells.
"At the same time, the bill would continue to allow companies to appeal if their applications for permits are denied," he said. "This is completely unprecedented in Ohio law and we consider it to be dangerous and emphatically at odds with basic American values."
Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesman Carlo LoParo said citizens can still challenge permits through the courts. He said the legislation simply clarifies an existing area of state law under which no individual has challenged a well permit in the Oil and Gas Commission's more than 40-year history.
Supporters said the bill balances environment, public health and safety, and commerce by expanding chemical disclosure and water testing requirements.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, backs the bill as a responsible compromise between environmental protection and policies friendly to the state's developing shale drilling industry.
It requires well operators to disclose the location they'll draw water from for blasting into the well, as well as the rate and volume at which they'll withdraw it.
The legislation further requires well operators to disclose all chemicals that will come into contact with human water supplies during the drilling operation, though not the specific recipe. Water samples must also be taken at all wells within 1,500 feet of any proposed horizontal well.
It retains an Ohio "mandatory pooling" law that gives drillers the opportunity to access oil and gas under a landowners' property against their will, if enough neighbors agree to it to satisfy a state review board.
An environmental coalition, led by the Ohio Environmental Council, challenged another provision of the bill the prohibits medical professionals who access proprietary chemical information about the wells from disclosing that information outside of treating individual patients.
The council said the wording would prevent a doctor from alerting local health departments and first responders.
LoParo said doctors would have greater access to proprietary chemical information under the bill than they do to similar information when a tanker truck spills chemicals or other chemical incidents.
He said the language seeks to keep doctors from sharing trade secrets of the energy companies.