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Banning Oil and Gas Drilling Where There Isn't Any Oil or Gas Now a New Political Sport

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Hollow environmental gestures at least make for good theater.

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The venue for political environmental theater expanded this week with Ohio Governor John Kasich signing an executive order re-establishing the state's ban on drilling for gas and oil on Lake Erie.

"I really don't see what public good that does besides making people who don't like oil and gas drilling, particularly on Lake Erie, cheer," Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, scoffed. "So, hurrah."

The governor said the state's drilling ban would be a backstop against possible drilling on the lake "if the current congressional ban on drilling in or under the Great Lakes should be lifted." The ban was included in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and there is no indication that law will be repealed any time soon.

Kasich is not alone in making seemingly empty gestures. The New Jersey Legislature has twice in two years done so. In June this year, it adopted a bill that prohibits the state treatment plants from accepting wastewater from out of state drilling operations. Never mind the fact the nearest drilling operation is at least a three-hour drive away from New Jersey. Governor Chris Christie has not decided whether to sign the bill.

In 2011, the legislature passed a bill that prohibited gas producers from hydraulically fracturing a well in the state. Never mind the fact that no one has been or is now looking for gas in the Garden State. The sponsors of the bill acknowledged that reality, but said they wanted to show solidarity with environmentalists opposed to the practice. Governor Christie vetoed the bill but imposed a year-long moratorium on fracking while the state studies the practice to see if it safe.

Meanwhile, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin in May signed a bill that bans hydraulic fracturing in the Green Mountain State. By taking that action, he said Vermont would be leading the nation by being the first in the nation to ban the practice.

Shumlin didn't mention there are no producing wells in Vermont and the last effort to find any gas in the state occurred in 1984 was a bust.

This article was written by Rodney White and originally appeared on Platts' The Barrel.
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