YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - As the first real winter weather hit Northeast Ohio Nov. 30, hundreds from around the state protested the first Ohio natural gas industry conference at the Covelli Centre here. The protesters engaged in networking, learning and speaking events at the First United Universalist Church of Youngstown in the morning, then marched to the Covelli Centre where the natural gas industry was promoting the environmentally destructive process known as fracking in the Buckeye State. The eventful day culminated in an energetic rally in Youngstown Square at the site of the recently dismantled Occupy Youngstown.
Speakers commenced with Rev. James Deming, national head of the Green ministry of the United Churches of Christ calling for honesty from the industry during all phases of the drilling process from chemicals used, leasing terms, and job creation figures.
Michelle Aini spoke of saving for, then buying a house in which to raise her family and the horror of waking up one day to find a drill rig operating 600 feet from her home.
"This was a sudden shock," she said. "We had no advance warning. The noise and the fumes were unbelievable. Our quiet suburban lives instantly became only a memory. If we allow fracking, this kind of disruption of normal life and exposure to dangerous industrial operations will occur everywhere in Ohio. We must not let this happen".
Pittsburgh councilman Doug Shields said the ban on fracking adopted by his city "was about our authority as a municipality to say, 'No' to corporations that will cause damage to our communities".
Joe Cronin, a professor at Ohio University in Yellow Springs, explained that he and his friends made the 227 mile trip to Youngstown because, "we understand that the gas and oil drillers, their lobbies, and their politicians at the Statehouse are trying to push ahead with full force to do to our land, our groundwater, and to our future livelihoods what they have done in Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania. We understand the tragic results of waiting until it is too late. They are betting that we are not paying attention. We need to stand up, build our own awareness, create our own energy and construct our own movement to protect Ohio's families, seniors, and children."
Dave Simons, Chair of the Ohio Sierra Club Energy Committee, focused on the promise of renewable energy for Ohio jobs, health, and environment.
"When the gas finally runs out, and it will, we will end up with tainted water, unbreathable air, and ruined landscapes AND, we will have missed the much larger and sustainable economic opportunities that are clearly emerging in the green energy/green jobs sectors," he said.
The protesters, holding signs reading: "You Can't Drink Money," "We Love our Air, We Love our Water, We Love our Rights," and "Steel for Wind Turbines not Fracking," stood in the cold chanting, cheering and listening. The event was the culmination of grassroots planning by a large coalition of individuals and environmental groups across Ohio.
Photo: Rachel DeGolia