By Jo Ingles
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - The Republican-led Ohio legislature approved a bill setting rules for drilling and related activities in the state's shale gas industry, in a vote late on Thursday, responding to a series of small earthquakes in Ohio last year that experts linked to a practice called fracking.
Republican State Representative Peter Stautberg said the new measure will ensure safe development of Ohio's shale gas reserves while allowing the energy industry to prosper.
"There is a balance that is to be struck between the industry and the administration ... without hampering the industry to such an extent that it destroys the efforts of this state to take advantage of the natural resources," he said.
The bill, which now goes to Republican Governor John Kasich for his signature, requires increased disclosure of chemicals and water used in the fracking process.
Fracking is the controversial practice of injecting chemical-laced water and sand into shale to release oil and natural gas.
Critics say that the high-pressure injection of the liquid into rock causes seismic activity. Some states have either banned fracking or placed strict restrictions on how it is carried out.
The bill also requires water sampling within 1,500 feet of proposed water wells. It mandates that oil and gas wells be tracked between the time they are drilled and the time they are capped. It requires that waste fluids from other states be disclosed before they can be injected into wells in Ohio.
And the legislation requires increased inspection of wells, and forces well owners to hold liability insurance coverage.
Many Democrats said the bill paves the way for the industry to hide information about toxic chemicals that could contaminate groundwater.
"You have grandchildren. You have kids that could be exposed to these dangers," Democratic Representative Bob Hagan said.
But the measure passed the House by a vote of 73 to 19 and the Senate concurred by a vote of 21 to 8.
Kasich said he will sign the legislation.
"I'm so excited about what this legislation accomplishes and what it means for Ohio's future," he said.
A series of 11 small earthquakes culminating in a New Year's Eve tremor with a magnitude of 4.0 in the Youngstown, Ohio, area prompted the state to place a drilling moratorium on five wells.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said in March that the high-pressure injection of fluid underground related to fracking caused the earthquakes.
Ohio has nearly 200 deep wells in 41 counties, with 177 of those wells used primarily for oil and gas waste disposal. Since 1983, more than 202 million barrels of oilfield fluids have been disposed of in Ohio, more than half from out of state.
(Editing by Greg McCune and Jan Paschal)