Kasich, Koch and Big-Industry Bucks: Why Ohio Is the Next Fracking Frontier

Fracking opponents in southern Ohio won a victory last week when the United States Forest Service (USFS) withdrew more than 3,000 acres of public lands from a federal oil and gas lease sale scheduled for December 7, 2012. The USFS announced that it needed more time to review the potential effects of fracking after receiving petitions and letters from local leaders who used the old-fashioned method of collecting signatures to catch the attention of government officials.

The fracking industry, on the other hand, has spent $747 million dollars in the past decade to lobby Congress and support politicians in states like Ohio, Michigan and New York as part of a campaign to keep fracking unregulated, according to a recent Common Cause report.

Fracking is short for horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and Ohio is the next ground zero for the rapidly expanding natural-gas drilling method, which has enraged environmentalists and provoked controversy across the country. Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals – some of them toxic – into deep underground wells to break up rock and release natural gas.

Common Cause reports that fracking companies spent $2.8 million in political contributions to Ohio parties and candidates since 2001. Republican Gov. John Kasich tops the list and has received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the industry.

Additional analysis of campaign records by Truthout reveals that wealthy executives of companies connected to the natural gas industry, including billionaires William “Bill” Koch and David Koch of Koch brothers fame, funneled an additional $127,268 in personal donations through a political action committee (PAC) to support Kasich’s election in 2010.

Earlier this year, Kasich signed a law passed by Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature allowing drilling companies to frack in state parks, a big signal to the industry that Ohio is open for business.

Kasich and other fracking supporters say the industry will create 200,000 jobs and bring new revenues to the state as drillers seek to exploit the gas-rich Utica and Marcellus shale formations deep under Ohio.

Environmental groups point to hundreds of documented water contamination incidents and two recent rig blowouts in Pennsylvania as evidence that fracking should be highly regulated or even banned. A grassroots movement opposed to fracking has grown in a number of states, and dozens of municipalities across the country have passed measures banning fracking in local areas.

Kasich is not the only Ohio politician who has enjoyed support from the industry. Former Democratic governor Ted Strickland received $87,450 since 2001. The state-level Republican campaign committees for the Ohio House and Senate have received a combined total of $210,250. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted received $84,750.

Common Cause spokesperson James Browning said Ohio has one of the “worst” lobbying disclosure laws in the country, making it difficult to determine how much the fracking lobby has spent in Ohio.

Fracking companies gave $20.5 million to current members of Congress and spent $726 million lobbying Congress since 2001, according to Common Cause. House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) received $186,900 from fracking interests since 2001, topping the list of Ohioans in Congress. In 2005, Boehner supported the Energy Policy Act, which includes language now known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” which exempts the fracking industry from regulation under the Clean Water Act.

Truthout found that wealthy businessmen connected to the natural gas industry donated thousands of dollars to a PAC organized by the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in 2010. The PAC used a majority of the money to pay for attack ads against former governor Strickland, whom Kasich defeated in 2010.

The RGA Ohio PAC raised $45,582 from leaders of natural gas drilling firms, including $11,395 from Bill Koch. Koch founded the Oxbow Group, a fossil fuel firm that partners with gas driller Gunnison Energy Corporation to frack and sell natural gas.

Koch’s brother, David, of Koch Industries, which maintains natural gas pipelines, also donated $11,395 to the RGA PAC. Leaders of companies that distribute natural gas donated a combined $81,686, according to campaign records.

The RGA and its Ohio PAC spent $11 million supporting Kasich’s 2010 campaign and swooped into Ohio again to defend Senate Bill 5, an anti-collective-bargaining bill championed by Kasich and repealed by Ohio voters on November 8. The RGA set up a front group to hide its finances during the campaign leading up to the referendum on Senate Bill 5. A recent investigation by Truthout revealed that the RGA had raised nearly $5 million from private healthcare, corrections and education firms to support Kasich in 2010 before returning to Ohio in 2011 to protect its investment.

Common Cause reports that heavy political spending by the fracking industry has helped keep it largely unregulated. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on fracking is due out next year and could pave the way for federal regulations.