Uncertainty about who owns natural-gas rights for some state lands could limit how much money Ohio could make if it passes a proposal to open the lands to drilling. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates it owns gas rights for less than one-third of the 115,000 acres of state parks, The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday.
Access to natural gas is covered by mineral rights, so the state could make money from the drilling if it had the mineral rights for a piece of land and the ability to lease access to them, the newspaper said.
Ohio doesn't know who owns the gas rights in many cases, ODNR real-estate administrator Gene Wells said.
"Some of these lands were purchased in the 1920s," Wells said. "It was not an issue back then to clearly identify what our mineral interests were."
The state would have to use title searches in county recorder offices to determine who holds the mineral rights for many sites and whether old lease agreements might apply, Wells said."On a case-by-case basis, we'd have to look at the (ownership) history and go from there on what we would allow," Wells said.
The state also might have to allow drilling in some places - even if it doesn't have the mineral rights or a shot at royalties - because of old leases that allow companies "surface access."
Under that interpretation, leaseholders could argue they currently have rights to drill in some state parks, according to Wells and Thomas Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
Gov. John Kasich and other state officials argue that allowing drilling in state parks, forests and other areas could bring in millions of dollars for Ohio. Exactly how much the state could make is unclear, but landowners are seeing offers by energy companies for up to $1,500 an acre for mineral rights, the newspaper reported.
Environmentalists contend it would lead to pollution, ecological damage or other problems that would outweigh the revenues.
"Drilling in state parks is going to make more headaches than money for the state," said Jennifer Miller, spokeswoman for the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club. "It's just a plain bad idea."
--- Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com