By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog
Thank goodness we have politicians and government to protect us. Heaven knows, we’d never be able to take care of ourselves without such benevolent overseers.
We wouldn’t know if the businesses we patronize are taking our money and giving it to criminals, we wouldn’t wear our seat belts, we wouldn’t know how to say no to a bait-and-switch scam, and we wouldn’t know how to read mortgage documents that tell us about variable interest rates. We’re so incompetent that we certainly can’t function without all these laws to protect us.
Now it appears that we also need to be protected from predatory leasing practices by the evil oil and gas industry.
At least, that’s the perspective of state Rep. Mark Okey, D-Carrollton, who has introduced House Bill 493, the Truth in Leasing Act. The bill was referred to committee, but no hearings on it have been scheduled.
“Every day, Big Oil is taking advantage of my constituents and people all around Ohio,” Okey said. “The state needs to act now to protect their property rights before it is too late.”
The act would regulate the oil and gas leasing process and guarantee minimum royalty rates for Ohio’s landowners that are similar to those found in neighboring states, Okey has explained. The bill basically determines the terms of the contract between a company and a landowner. It establishes certain provisions of any agreement, including the minimum payment a landowner must receive.
Obviously, Ohioans are not capable of entering into a contract on their own, or of deciding the “minimum” payment they want to have.
The bill also defines “land professional” as a person engaged primarily in:
- Negotiating the acquisition or divestiture of mineral rights regarding the extraction of oil or gas, including wet gas;
- Negotiating business agreements that provide for the exploration for or development of oil or gas, including wet gas;
- Securing the pooling of interests in oil or gas, including wet gas.
Why does it define this category of individual? So they can collect a fee, of course!
The bill requires a registration and fee from all land professionals and then imposes regulations on that them and what they must do. But that’s not all. It also requires any landowner to sign a form acknowledging receipt of a “thorough explanation” of all the provisions of the law.
People who test the wells also must register and pay a fee — unless you’re a government employee, that is.
“It is my firm belief that we have not done enough to regulate the drilling industry and to adequately protect the rights and property of Ohio’s landowners,” Okey said in a letter to House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee Chairman David Hall, R-Killbuck.
“Our failure to act means that the industry will continue to face costly lawsuits and allegations of misconduct until we pass reasonable legislation to improve the leasing process in our state,” Okey wrote.
Yes, because the minute the General Assembly passes a law, there will be no more costly lawsuits or any allegations of misconduct. Of course, having a law pretty much assures that industry will be prosecuted under such a law … so much for ending lawsuits and allegations.
We already have myriad laws governing all kinds of bad, unscrupulous activity but, clearly none of them will do for this particular problem.
Never mind that having all the existing laws hasn’t eliminated lawsuits and allegations of misconduct — pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. We clearly need to be protected from “unscrupulous oil and gas landmen peddling lease proposals,” as Trent Dougherty, director of legal affairs for the Ohio Environmental Council recently called them.
Dougherty was upset about a Wall Street Journal article that reported on Chesapeake Energy’s efforts to renegotiate leases with Ohio landowners. He even managed to use the term “gasland,” which is a not-so-subtle reference to the anti-fracking and debunked movie by the same name.
Evidently, when an evil oil or gas company wants to renegotiate a contract, government needs to step in, because the landowner who negotiated the contract in the first place can’t handle a request to change the terms.
Not to worry. Okey and his bill will protect us, even if we don’t know we need to be saved from harm.