DeWine dismisses drilling file
- Published: July 7, 2011
This month Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released the findings of an investigation of a document containing fraudulent land leasing tactics for the purpose of gas drilling in the Yellow Springs area. A landowner in Miami Township had found the unmarked document in her yard in April, close to the time that an agent of West Bay Exploration had visited several landowners offering to purchase a lease agreement for the purpose of gas drilling.
According to the statement, DeWine’s office found “no evidence indicat[ing] that the document belonged to that company or that it was used in the attempt to mislead homeowners into signing an oil and gas lease.”
Ohio Representatives Teresa Fedor, Dennis Murray and Mark Okey requested the investigation after Yellow Springs residents criticized the document and its contents during Senate and House committee hearings this spring on House Bill 133 that would allow gas and oil production on state-owned property, except in state nature preserves. In a letter to the representatives, DeWine said that an investigator from his office made several trips to Yellow Springs to interview about a dozen land owners and several law enforcement personnel. A state attorney also interviewed employees and an agent from “the only oil and gas exploration company that appears to be operating in the Yellow Springs area.” The letter describes the absence of evidence connecting the document to a particular author, adding that the investigation was closed.
“Had a link been established with the document, the company and the lease activity, my office would have continued an investigation into whether or not fraudulent activity had occurred,” the letter states.
Spokesman Dan Tierney from the attorney general’s office said on Monday that he could not provide any details regarding the investigation process. According to Miami Township resident Laura Skidmore, who found the unmarked document in a binder in her yard in April, she was one of the residents who investigators came to interview sometime in May. The investigator asked her to recount the visits and conversations she had with the West Bay land agent back in April, but declined to accept the original document for closer inspection. And sometime during the interview, Skidmore said, the interviewer stated that he did not believe that the document was authentic and that it was a crime to plant this kind of document as a fake.
“He wasn’t interested in taking the document as evidence, which blew my mind, because real or not, it’s here and it could have fingerprints all over it,” she said.
Skidmore said she doesn’t know whether the document is authentic or not, but she doesn’t understand how the attorney general could know either.
“They came out with a conclusion, which was not really a conclusion,” she said.
TJ Turner, another property owner who was visited by the attorney general’s investigator last month, was also disappointed that the office did not want the original document, which could have been verified against the electronic versions that exist online or perhaps matched to a particular printer make and model. According to Turner, who has a background in criminal investigation, the first step in basic investigating is to preserve all physical evidence.
Turner said that he is also not surprised about the results of the investigation given DeWine’s voting record as U.S. Senator. According to Project Vote Smart, DeWine voted for the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that included exempting oil and gas producers from parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act. According to OpenSecrets.org, DeWine has accepted nearly $500,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. And Turner feels the investigation was rushed due to the pending vote on HB 133, which, he notes, achieved concurrence from both the House and the Senate the same day that DeWine’s office published its press release about the investigation in Yellow Springs.
There are only two possible conclusions, according to Turner. One is that the document is fake, and the other is that some oil and gas company employee dropped an incriminating document.
“One of these is a heck of a lot easier assumption than the other,” he said.
The document that Skidmore found in her yard contained instructions on how to convince property owners to lease their land for gas drilling, and encouraged the use of misleading, dissembling, and other unethical tactics to acquire a contract (go to www.ysnews.com to see a copy of the outline). West Bay Exploration Vice President Pat Gibson said at the time that not only did the document not belong to that company or any of its representatives, the language in it was inconsistent with industry standards and probably was not authentic.
Reached this week for comment, Gibson reasserted that West Bay had nothing to do with the document.
“It is somewhat gratifying that the attorney general was willing to issue a press release letting people know that he also found no evidence that the document was real,” he said. “Though I had hoped they would have come to some kind of conclusion about who authored it.”
West Bay began its exploration of natural gas in the area just north of Yellow Springs about eight months ago, and while no drilling target has been identified, the company plans to continue its search for resources in this area. Several township residents have placed signs in their yards opposing hydraulic fracturing, a gas drilling technique that is believed to contaminate the drinking water aquifer, and Green Environmental Coalition members have opposed fracturing, or fracking, which they say is unsafe for the environment.
But after the local farms have harvested their crops, West Bay plans to resume its seismic testing to gauge whether extraction of resources is a viable possibility, Gibson said. Generally, property owners have been willing to give the company access to their land.
“I can’t think of any place where we’ve been unable to get permission for further testing,” he said. In addition to the report of its findings, the attorney general’s office included on its Web site information that property owners can use to learn more about the oil and gas industry, including tips on understanding and working with drilling companies and discussing lease payments and potential damages.
“Because Ohio has Marcellus and Utica shale in many areas of the state, Ohioans can expect to see interest in oil and gas leasing issues, especially in regard to “fracking,” the release stated. “Homeowners should not be pressured into any decision, and they should obtain all the details in writing.”