STEUBENVILLE -When it comes to shale drilling in the Buckeye State, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson thinks federal regulators need to "butt out."
Johnson, R-Marietta, said Ohioans "are sitting on the world's largest deposit of natural gas" and said shale has the potential to be an economic driver for the state for decades to come.
"I'm extremely excited about the opportunity, but it is an opportunity," said Johnson, in Steubenville to host a regional oil and gas forum at Eastern Gateway Community College back in October. The forum focused on the economic opportunities shale development will bring to the region. "We've got to make sure federal regulators do not stand in the way. If it's not a public safety or a public health related issue, they need to butt out. I'm going to fight for that, see that it happens."
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, hosted an oil and gas forum in October at Eastern Gateway Community College. - Linda Harris
Johnson told the crowd he's "convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior are going to try and insert themselves into the process and make it difficult for us to capitalize on this opportunity."
"I'm going to work hard to keep that from happening, because I believe the state Department of Natural Resources and the state Department of Environmental Protection are much more qualified to make sure that what we're doing here in Ohio is in the best interest of Ohioans," he said.
"Harvesting natural gas is an expensive, painstaking process, one we need to make sure is done safely. But we've been doing this for a very, very long time. The process has been around for more than 60 years. We know how to do it safely, and we believe we can and will continue to do it safely. Ohio is on the cutting edge of this opportunity."
But, Johnson also said residents need to be able to make informed decisions, and said local leaders must ensure shale development brings "a long-term, permanent return to prosperity. We need to make sure we don't have big companies coming in here, taking all our resources and then (taking) off."
"I'm not even sure we have come to grips with the opportunity that may be coming our way," he added. "When we talk about other places around the nation that have capitalized on this kind of opportunity with much less resources, we're talking about places like Fort Worth and Houston."
Thursday's forum was also attended by Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. The event drew residents and government leaders from Columbiana, Belmont and Jefferson counties.
One man said he was all for drilling, but had chosen not to lease the mineral rights to his property only to find out the oil and gas underlying his property could be pooled with surrounding properties "even if I don't sign."
Others complained that leases are going for thousands more now than when they signed away their rights, and asked what recourse they had.
"It's a difficult issue, one that's rippling across Ohio and the other shale states," Stewart said, advising landowners to seek qualified legal advice before they sign mineral leases.