Fracking stirs controversy in Ohio

CLEVELAND – Airways here and across Ohio have recently been flooded by ads from the oil and natural gas industry gleefully explaining that a new technology has allowed them to extract natural gas from rock.

Other ads remind viewers that they may be part owners of natural gas and oil companies through their retirement or pension funds.

Why the flood of information about natural gas? Because “fracking” has come to Ohio.

Three bills currently before the Ohio legislature would allow fracking in state parks. The industry seeks to drill 20,000 wells in the state parks with each site requiring the clearing of 20 acres of the surrounding woods. Currently there are only three wells in Ohio using a destructive new technology called slick water hydro-fracking, or high-pressure, high volume hydro-fracking.

Amendments to the bills proposing more environmental protections and excluding Lake Erie from fracking have all been rejected.

Over the past month standing room only crowds of concerned citizens have been testifying at public hearings against the drilling in state parks. Only one person testified in favor – David Mustine, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, appointed by Republican Governor John Kasich. Mustine has a background working for the oil and gas industry.

The Republican majority in Ohio’s both houses seems oblivious to the public outcry and bent on putting the state’s natural treasures at risk by an industry whose track record is shameful.

Since 2005 communities nationwide have seen the disastrous effects of the new technology. The system allows millions of gallons of fresh water mixed with up to 600 chemicals and sand that are forced under a very high pressure underground then drilled horizontally to “fracture” shale, releasing the natural gas and or oil trapped in the hard formations. Three fourths of the chemical laden water, or “brine” remain underground traveling through the fractures. If there is an underground aquifer in its path, that aquifer is permanently and severely polluted.

The remaining brine comes out above ground as wastewater. This backflow is a toxic product that can be radioactive if there is radon in the fractured rock. This wastewater is put in holding pools to allow some of the chemicals to evaporate into the atmosphere. 

The remaining wastewater is sometimes “recycled” by using it to spray the roads to keep the dust down, or other cleaning activities. It cannot be sent to municipal treatment facilities where there are no methods to clean it and should not be dumped into streams or rivers or lakes.

So, it is often put into injection wells. If the well is shoddily constructed this toxic mix can seep out to pollute the ground or, if there are heavy rains it can cause an overflow, which also pollutes the ground.

Does this sound like a clear violation of air and water regulations?

Unfortunately fracking is exempted from the usual environmental safeguards thanks to a loophole in the Clean Water Act of 2005 at the urging of former Vice President Dick Cheney. His former company, Halliburton, was also engaged in fracking.

This new kind of fracking has been practiced in many states including Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

When Josh Fox, a Pennsylvania landowner was approached to sign a lease to allow fracking on his land, he knew nothing about the process. Seeking to learn more, he set off on a journey throughout the country to see first hand the effects fracking had on communities. What he found and documented in his Oscar-nominated film “Gasland” were alarming cases of ruined water wells, devastated landscapes, fouled streams, sick farm animals, pets and human beings, and evasive, uncooperative drilling companies and agencies responsible for regulating them.

Hoping to educate the public about the problems associated with horizontal fracking, the Northeast Ohio Sierra Club is holding screenings of  “Gasland.” Coalitions working with the statewide Buckeye Forest Council are forming to oppose fracking in a number of counties.

Photo: Ari Moore // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0