COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Ohio Ethics Commission warned a member of the state's oil and gas commission on Monday that his consulting work with energy companies and landowners could present a conflict of interest.
Besides being a professor of petroleum engineering at Marietta College, Commissioner Robert Chase operates a private consulting firm, Chaseland LLC, that links individual landowners and landowner associations with energy companies seeking drilling leases.
The firm has dealt with some of the biggest players in the state's developing shale drilling industry, including Chesapeake Energy, Anadarko, Marathon, Exxon and Chevron, according to information he submitted to the ethics panel.
In its advisory opinion, the Ethics Commission said state ethics law prohibits Chase from participating in any commission decision involving a group he's negotiated with or a company that's paid him for his services.
Chase told The Associated Press that he saw nothing unexpected in the advisory opinion.
"I know what my ethical responsibilities are, and if an issue arises involving one of these entities, I would be the first to recuse myself," he said.
He noted that he sought the commission's opinion and that other members of the commission have had to recuse themselves in decisions directly related to their own companies.
Chase said he hasn't received any payments for his consulting work with major shale drilling companies, nor have cases involving them come before the commission during his service. However, he said he plans to reevaluate his role on the board when his term expires at the end of the year.
Jennifer Hardin, the commission's chief advisory attorney, said it is outside the commission's role to advise Chase to step down.
"The commission does not feel that it has the authority to say that he has to step down," she said. "They certainly saw that there was a significant potential for conflict of interest for him due to the nature of his public service."
The five-member Oil and Gas Commission receives and hears appeals involving orders issued by state regulators at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Mineral Resources Management. Its members are appointed by the governor.
The commission meets as needed, usually two or three times a year.
Chase said the panel has just one case currently scheduled, and it doesn't involve any of the entities for which he's done consulting. He added that he has not received any pay for his work with the major energy companies.
"I feel perfectly fine being on the commission and interpreting the state's regulations as they apply to that case," he said.
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