Land conservancy official believes cooperation’s key

STEUBENVILLE – The head of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy says Ohioans can’t afford to see their farmlands laid to waste any more than they can afford to turn their backs on the oil and gas industry.

But, left unchecked, WRLC President and CEO Rich Cochran said that’s exactly what will happen.

“Land conservation and oil and gas development can be done in harmony,” Cochran said during a public forum Wednesday evening at Eastern Gateway Community College. “We’ve noticed the landowners of Eastern Ohio are really excited to hear there’s middle ground, they don’t want to have a war fought on their farms.”

Cochran said “cooperation and creativity,” not extremism, is the answer.

“What we’ve learned by studying oil and gas development around the world is that it tends to be done in the context of a fight, and when you’re fighting you can’t be cooperating and creative.”

WRLC’s strategy for the Utica-Point Pleasant region, dubbed “Uncommon Ground for the Common Good,” is, in his words, an “ambitious effort to develop a shared vision for the land area that overlays a world-class oilfield called the Utica Point Pleasant formation” of Eastern Ohio.

“There are no real winners when an oilfield becomes a battlefield,” he wrote in that report. “In the end, due to the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, the oil and gas always gets extracted, the opposition loses, the businesses spend more money to make less money, the local people who were there before the extraction are the only ones left in the end. What are they left with? An old battlefield, destroyed by the battle, on which the environmental and social devastation is sometimes bad enough to create ghost towns overnight.

“Having studied this situation in Eastern Ohio for more than two years now, we have drawn the conclusion that if this oilfield becomes a battlefield, we will all lose because during battles it is impossible to be deliberate, planful, cooperative and constructive. Everyone is angry. Things get destroyed. Nothing good happens.”

The strategy calls for WRLC to identify essential natural resources as well as areas suited to natural gas development.

“The bottom line of the WRLC plan is to provide for development of shale gas while at the same time preserving and improving our natural surface resources so that after the gas has been extracted, we are left with the natural assets essential to long-term prosperity; productive farmland, clean water and healthy forests,” Cochran wrote.

He told Wednesday’s audience WRLC, a nonprofit, believes “our work can help provide a foundation for an enduring and prosperous community.”