Ohio legislators have been working to craft new shale oil and gas drilling rules that will do more to protect the environment, and at the same time, help protect the fledgling shale drilling industry in the state. New legislation passed in committee yesterday that will now go to the full House includes a provision to help prevent frivolous lawsuits brought by deep-pocketed anti-drilling groups, like the Ohio Environmental Council and the Sierra Club. These groups, who are opposed to expanded use of fossil fuels, use the legal system to tie up shale drillers in court and force them to spend huge sums of money as a tactic to reduce fossil fuel mining and use.
When the Ohio House added a protection against such shenanigans, predictably the anti-drillers objected.
Under the contested provision, those eligible to sue companies that withhold chemical trade secrets would include property owners, adjacent neighbors, and any person or state agency "having an interest that is or may be adversely affected" by the chemical protected as a trade secret.
Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmental Council said the provision establishing who has standing to sue over trade secrets would make it virtually impossible for most Ohioans to file legal action. The council had been neutral on the energy bill until the provision was tucked into it.
"Sadly, what started out as one of possibly the most ambitious chemical disclosure laws in the country has now turned into one of the most radical and anti-public right-to-know laws in the nation," Shaner said.
The Sierra Club also shifted from neutral to opposed because of the provision.*
“Most Ohioans” that can’t sue for Jack Shaner means his organization. The proposed new law clearly allows the people who would theoretically have a claim—those being drilled on and their neighbors, or state agencies—to sue. Disallowing anti-drilling groups to tie up legitimate businesses in court (i.e. neutering their ability to conduct legal shenanigans) is a welcome and common sense action by the Ohio House, and MDN applauds them.
*Van Wert (OH) Times Bulletin/AP (May 24, 2012) – Sparks fly over Ohio energy trade secrets measure