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Letter to OGLMC, ODNR, Ohio Attorney General on Allegedly Fake Pro-Fracking Comments

To the Members of the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, Director Mary Mertz, and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost,

The undersigned organizations write this letter to bring to your attention a serious concern we have with the public engagement process surrounding the state lands nomination process.

On September 10th, 2023, and The Plain Dealer published an article by reporter Jake Zuckerman titled “Their names appeared on letters urging fracking Ohio’s state parks. They don’t know how.” In the story, Zuckerman provides narrative after narrative of Ohioans whose identities were used to support oil and gas development in Ohio’s state parks—including a 9 year old girl’s identifying information.

But almost all of these people said they did not write the letters.

As early as July 14th, Save Ohio Parks volunteers noticed anomalies with submitted comments, and brought those anomalies to the attention of the Commission and the Ohio Attorney General. The story goes on to detail how out-of-state oil and gas interests used deceptive tactics to acquire the identifying information of Ohioans, utilizing that information to create letters to the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission. According to the investigation, the entities behind this alleged identity theft have long utilized similar tactics both in Ohio and in other states across the country.

As the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission considers whether to grant or deny the nominations of state parks and public lands for oil and gas leasing, it must base its decisions on an accurate factual record. The evidence presented indicates the public record is drastically incorrect, with many of the comments submitted to the Commission not actually submitted by the people whose names are attached to the comments or by Ohioans who did not understand that by providing their names they were filing a public comment. At best, this is a harmless error. At worst, someone deceptively submitted “public” comments using the names of Ohioans without their knowledge.

Ohioans should not have their names attached to a public record without their knowledge or consent. Ohio’s decision makers should also be basing their decisions on true and accurate information, including the understanding that the people participating in the process actually exist.

With these considerations in mind, the undersigned organizations make the following requests of the Ohio Attorney General:

  • Investigate the entities responsible for advertising, collecting, processing, and submitting these public records to determine how they acquired the names, phone numbers, email addresses, and other contact information of people whose information was used in a public comment without their consent
  • Take any necessary action against these entities to protect Ohioans from having their information used erroneously to influence public processes, like the one administered by the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission
  • We acknowledge that the Ohio Attorney General has already issued some subpoenas regarding the evidence uncovered by—we applaud this action and support further actions to uncover the truth behind these activities

Similarly, we make the following requests of the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:

  • Delay or deny any state nomination decisions until after a thorough investigation occurs to verify the public record for each ongoing leasing nomination and correct the record as necessary based on the investigations
  • As you refine the public input process to prevent entities from using the identities of nonconsenting Ohioans to support a particular decision regarding the leasing of state lands for oil and methane gas extraction, create a process that does not dampen the ability of real Ohioans to participate
  • Take appropriate action toward any entity involved in the leasing process that used Ohioans’ identities without their consent during the applicable public comment periods

We believe these actions are necessary in light of the facts presented. Whatever actions the Ohio Attorney General, the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources take, we ask that those actions give Ohioans a robust, factual, and transparent public input process. Likewise, as you take action to rectify the current problem, we ask that you act transparently, updating Ohioans on the progress of the investigation and soliciting feedback from them as you improve public commenting procedures.

Respectfully submitted,

Carol Kauffman
Executive Director
Ohio Environmental Council

Roxanne Groff
Steering Committee Member
Save Ohio Parks

Rachael Belz
Ohio Consumer Power Alliance

Heather Cantino
Steering Committee Chair
Athens County’s Future Action Network

Eric Engle
Board President
Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action

Tristan Rader
Ohio Director
Solar United Neighbors

Jess Grim
Third Act Ohio

Jill Hunkler
Ohio Valley Allies

Dion Mensah
Outreach Coordinator
Black Environmental Leaders Action Fund

Mary Turocy
Director of Policy and Government Relations
The Nature Conservancy

Ericka Copeland
State Director
Sierra Club Ohio

Scott Hubay
Managing Partner
Hubay Dougherty

John Sadusky
Senior Regional Representative, Region 1
Muskies, Inc

Richard Coun
NEO Climate Reality Project

Tracy Sabetta
State Coordinator
Moms Clean Air Force – Ohio

Lea Harper
Managing Director
Freshwater Accountability Project

Zachary Bollheimer
Executive Director
Buckeye Environmental Network

Kyle Marcum
Political Director
Ohio Citizen Action

Shaniqua Gibson
Ohio Organizing Director
Action for Climate Emergency