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Drilling rules a top priority

February 15, 2012
Salem News

Gas and oil drilling already have pumped tens of millions of dollars into the East Ohio economy. More - much more - is to come.

With the thousands of new jobs, bonanzas in lease payments to mineral rights owners and higher tax revenue will come concern about safety and environmental degradation. It is apparent already, as evidenced by protesters who disrupted Ohio Gov. John Kasich's State of the State speech Tuesday in Steubenville.

Condemnation of Kasich or any other local or state official is premature.

Responsible public officials, the governor included, understand the state needs to enact an updated set of regulations for the gas and oil industries. Fair but tough rules are being advocated. Kasich himself warned Tuesday, "You cannot degrade the environment at the same time you're producing this industry. ... The biggest companies know that you need to have tough environmental rules."

Later in the week, Attorney General Mike DeWine weighed in on the issue. He called for stiffer penalties on polluters in the gas and oil industries. And, on the matter of hydraulic fracturing, he demanded more disclosure of chemicals used in the process.

"Fracking," as some refer to the practice, is essential in modern gas and oil drilling. Yet many, including the protesters in Steubenville, worry some chemicals used are hazardous to the environment and to people who live near wells. Some of the major players in gas drilling already make public lists of chemicals they use.

Late last year, the West Virginia Legislature enacted a package of new regulations affecting the oil and gas industries. Pennsylvania officials are considering changes in their rules.

Indeed, it is time for Ohio to address the issue.

Kasich told a group of newspaper editors prior to his speech his administration and legislators have begun work on updated new regulations. He vowed not to "give away the store" to the industry.

But devising the new rules - ensuring they protect Ohioans while keeping the state competitive as a location for drilling - will take time. Much more than "fracking" is involved. As the governor noted, pipeline safety is a key consideration. So are other questions ranging from road maintenance to taxes and fees charged to drillers.

In West Virginia, no one in either industry or its critics was entirely pleased with new regulations on the gas and oil industries. Most seemed to agree what was approved by the Legislature involved reasonable compromises, however.

Ohio should proceed expeditiously but realistically on new rules. The sooner a package of proposals can be presented to the General Assembly, the sooner compromises needed to allow enactment can be made.

For that reason, we urge the Kasich administration to make drafting a set of regulations one of its top priorities during the next few months.



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