FWAP Builds the Record to Show Legislative and Regulatory Inaction Despite Evidence of Dangers
Dear Governor Kasich:
We are writing as representatives of a rapidly expanding volunteer coalition of concerned citizens, organizations and professionals. We would like to request a meeting to present and share our serious concerns and possible solutions for very large gaps in the general knowledge, scientific base, political leadership and regulatory foundation regarding fracking in Ohio. We have a members who are broadly trained professionals in the human, animal, plant/agricultural and environmental (so called “One Health”) areas as well as members of the hydrogeologic and materials industry. We are concerned about the paucity of independently collected and reviewed data regarding the environmental, human and animal health effects associated with unconventional shale drilling and disposal of waste products.
With 2012 the warmest in US documented history and with severe droughts and more forecasted, the subject of unconventional shale drilling is certain to be of particular importance to your political leadership as it highlights the potential for serious consequences if warning signs are ignored or downplayed during your critical watch. As you have witnessed already, the pushback from the severance tax proposal and the lack of local jobs provided by the industry could combine with other environmental and human health issues to create a “tipping point” for the state and the nation that will cause immense public outcry because of highly unregulated industrial practices.
We would like to invite you and your designate(s) to meet with us to share our ongoing findings, concerns and proposals from experts and dedicated citizens who have educated themselves in this subject. Our objective is to promote a safer, more sensible and secure way forward in which the energy industry can productively and profitably co-exist with our healthy future. We hope that we can establish a more precautionary approach to this new, temporary industry of unconventional shale drilling in Ohio. To summarize some but not all of the serious concerns, important subjects we would like to discuss are outlined below:
Human & Animal Health Effects:
Dr. Peter L. Nara, M.Sc., D.V.M., Ph.D., F.A.A.A.S. and graduate of The Ohio State University (79’, 84’ and 86’) is a Veterinary Medical Scientist, CEO, Professor, Endowed Chair and expert in One Health is closely examining and drafting a report on the effects of fracking in Southeast Ohio. Dr. Nara’s vacation home on Seneca Lake has been in the family for 50 years. Dr. Nara states, “The Seneca Lake region encompassing one of the largest natural watersheds under management in the eastern half of the US includes the municipality of Cambridge Ohio (population estimated at 12,000). The Cambridge area’s general population already suffers some of the worst cancer and chronic systemic health related conditions in the state according to the enclosed request for study funding (e.g. uterine cancer in Guernsey County is at an alarming 92% above population averages; leukemia is 62% greater rate; melanoma (38%); septicemia (infections of the blood) 82% and lower respiratory disease is 22%) compared to the rest of Ohio. As far as we can tell, the sources and reasons for this extremely poor health have not been adequately identified nor addressed by local and state leaders. The area around Seneca Lake and draining watershed which makes up the major water supply to Cambridge has a long history related to the fossil fuel extraction with large tracts of coal strip mining and thousands of shallow natural gas wells, some later used for numerous injection wells for hazardous waste disposal. The few environmental water quality studies that could be found in the literature demonstrate that the majority of the streams and tributaries draining the watershed and feeding into Wills Creek contain significant amounts of toxic by-products from these fossil fuel industries.”
The further extensive exploitation by the industry without better baseline health and environmental data will lead to even more rapid degradation of community health in an already toxic and leaking hydro-geologic structure that is being created by horizontal fracking. This would almost certainly subject local families, pregnant mothers, infants, young children adolescents adults and senior citizens to even more extremely poor health conditions and set the stage for expansion of the problem to even more citizen dense populations in the state. This area of Ohio has been exploited during the coal mining and oil rush days since the mid to later 1800’s. The evidence of the polluted surface and ground water in the associated streams and tributaries supplying the drinking and bathing water amply demonstrates the lack of follow through and monies provided to the communities for assessing the impact of the industrial practices on the health of the people.
Given the significantly larger unknown footprint of the horizontal gas drilling industry, it is a critical and defining time for state leadership to become part of the sustainable solution and bring some sense of responsibility to offset the profit motives of a temporary industry. The Cambridge community and others in the region reflect an ever growing microcosm of the larger towns and cities with high density populations living and growing their families and the economy of Ohio. Many will suffer the same fate from exposure to bad air and drinking water from connected sources lying over and Utica and Marcellus shale regions in Ohio. It will not be acceptable to ignore or downplay this problem in Ohio as has happened in the sparsely populated western states. To do so creates a potentially explosive situation when the health effects are realized.
Classification of Hazardous Waste as Non-Hazardous
Although the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has the regulatory ability to test incoming waste transports of gas field byproducts as well as what is generated from fracking operations in-state, the agency does not do so for the most part. Even when the tests are done and the waste product is found to contain toxic and radioactive components that would justify the hazardous classification, because of industry regulatory exemptions, the material is still allowed to be disposed of in non-hazardous Class II injection wells. Ohio has become such a lucrative dumping ground for the industry that there are plans to haul in waste from other states via barges for treatment and disposal. This double standard afforded the industry that allows its hazardous waste to be improperly transported and disposed of without future monitoring for leakage is something Ohioans will suffer from significantly as acute and chronic health related effects in the future.
We do not accept that the same toxic chemical such as benzene from a different industry could be classified as non-toxic when generated by the gas drilling industry. Applying scientific and deductive reasoning–toxic is toxic; hazardous is hazardous; unknown is yet unknown until studied. What we have seen of the few results of analyses of this waste material show it to be toxic for some of the elements measured. This basically becomes a gas industry disposal subsidy at the expense of human health and Ohio property values which should not be allowed and could become a well-remembered legacy from your administration. No one will want to live near a Class II injection well or frack waste disposal site once the facts are studied and revealed. The ensuing human health effects and loss of property value will lead to a torrent of some of the most expensive class action lawsuits in the history of Ohio. When it is realized that legislated non-hazardous material was, in fact, hazardous all along, it will be worse than the tobacco settlement because it will be revealed as a government cover-up rather than only an industry one.
Fracking Next to and Under Reservoirs for Public Drinking Water Supplies:
Our volunteer and national and internationally known experts in the coalition have been pulling critical information together here in Ohio that has helped frame the unique features that exist now that must be addressed. Please reference enclosed report by Paul Rubin using Seneca Reservoir as an example that could be extrapolated to other water bodies. Ohio has so many unknown, abandoned vertical wells that there is no way to guarantee that the toxic chemicals left in the ground by fracking and injected into Class II injection wells will not find ways to seep into public drinking water supplies. If nothing else, because of all the unknown locations of possible conduits for such migration, no fracking or injection wells should be allowed just for this reason. Although it may take some time, the effect of the migration into aquifers would most likely create a situation which would be difficult if not impossible to remediate. Without constant monitoring for hydrocarbons and toxins related to the fracking technology, how would a community know if harmful chemicals were entering water supplies?
In the state of New York, this issued has been studied at length. We are working with Paul Rubin, a noted hydro geologist from New York, who cites reports by Ron Bishop of SUNY Oneonta in which scores of hazardous subsurface fluids (including radioactive materials, brine, methane, and lethal chemical compound) have come up in ponds, basements, garages, wells and other unanticipated locations. NYSDEC has published that there are 48,000 (1994) or 57,000 (2008) unplugged old wells. The risk of uncontrolled contamination of water supplies and consequential human health impacts is an overwhelming reason to ban HVHF in NY and elsewhere. It is not a safe process, especially since fracking fluids contain a myriad of hazardous chemicals. Congress has a 17 page single-spaced list of 750 ingredients. Health effects associated with fracking have been reported in Pennsylvania and Ohio and more reports will be coming daily.
Once a water supply is damaged, cleanup is virtually impossible and cost prohibitive. Clean water is far more important than profit for gas companies, which now have government permission to ship gas overseas. Such out of country sale of our energy resources negates the gas industry’s own statements that we need to develop these resources for energy independence and our own national security. Our associates, professional and lay members have been networking regional scientific, policy, industry and health related meetings and conferences on this subject and remain with the same conclusions: our public drinking water supplies must be better protected from the extraction, destruction and pollution by unconventional shale drilling of trillions of gallons of freshwater supplies that will never be fit for consumption again.
Seismic and Subsidence Issues
The removal of large quantities of water, some of it from underground aquifers, as well as extraction of gas and the fracturing of deep geologic structures could create a subsidence if and when, for instance, an abandoned coal mine is drained of supporting water or fracturing creates faults that cause slippage in supporting structures. Even though the drilling industry tried very hard to deny the link to fracking and injection wells with earthquakes, the research has revealed the facts that these activities cause seismic activity. These are serious issues to take into consideration, especially when fracking is being allowed so close to dams and densely populated areas. We continue to question the Ohio Geological Survey and US Army Corps regarding our concerns. Just one dam that is damaged or eroded will represent hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to repair. Consequences in terms of human life and property could be even more severe.
Lack of Regulatory Oversight & Pollution Consequences
Although Ohio agencies can safeguard the public from detrimental effects created by fracking, regulations have been reduced to the effect that there are few requirements to do so. The OEPA can police polluted water, but they have no jurisdiction to monitor to prevent pollution. The fines that are imposed once water is contaminated are not enough to cause the drillers to implement better controls. Although green completion technology is available to protect the air quality and reduce greenhouse gas effects, it is not required until 2015 after much of the drilling and air pollution is already done. Vital environmental protections have been dismantled along with the loss of important local controls in Ohio to protect life and property. We know you are well aware of the “Halliburton loophole” and other loosened legislations and regulations on the state and federal level that allow this single industry to pollute above all others with impunity. Even though it is legal, it is certainly not wise, ethical or moral to do so and represents a gross violation of human rights and basic government protections.
Failure of Public Agencies to Protect Human Health and Environmental
A copy of this letter is also being sent to agency chiefs for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Health, USGS and USACE. We are pressing for greater judicial consideration of the precautionary principle to be applied to this current situation in Ohio. While the Governor of New York has requested a Health Impact Assessment, we assert that there is enough information already to warrant serious consideration of the documented health effects on humans and animals as well as the environmental degradation that has already taken place in states heavily engaged in fracking. While a lawsuit is in the works by other states in an effort to hold the — USEPA accountable for better controls for the gas drilling industry, Ohio has yet to join. Countless civil suits are already taking place in other states and have begun in Ohio. It will be revealed in the long run, just as it has been in other states, that our elected officials and public agencies have failed to take appropriate measures in the face of the gas drilling boom to protect Ohio’s citizens.
In New York, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, leading a coalition of seven states, today notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of his intent to sue the Agency for violating the Clean Air Act by failing to address methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry (see http://ecowatch.org/2012/fail-address-methane-emissions/). While this is happening now, there is also the — USEPA report that is ongoing to study the effects of the fracking industry on water supplies. This report will not be concluded until 2014. With increasing lawsuits and litigation as well as reports of air and water pollution and health effects from fracking, we are increasingly concerned that these alarm bells need to be heeded before even greater damage is done. The cost to avoid will be much less than the cost to repair the damages, if that is even possible.
Conflict of Interest
The democratic system is founded on the principle of checks and balances. Agencies who receive revenue from the unconventional shale drilling industry can be compromised in their oversight and regulatory responsibilities. For instance, the ODNR receives revenue for permitting fracking and Class II injection wells. This revenue stream then becomes part of the budget, with forecasts and expenditures tied to it that are depended upon to cover expenses. The same with other Ohio agencies, such as ODOT, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD), school boards, the ODNR once again, and others who would lease land for fracking, being tempted by leasing and royalty revenue at the expense of protecting the environment and human health. Counties and municipalities save money by spreading “brine” on roads, which once again, may or may not be hazardous. This material must be more adequately tested, but from what we have found, it should not be spread on roads or even disposed of in non-hazardous disposal wells. The produced water from the unconventional shale drilling industry needs to be tested and disposed of properly as an industry expense, not as an externalized cost to Ohioans in the future as has happened in the past by previous fossil fuel extraction activities.
We see the lease of public land and sale of public water around and under reservoirs in SE Ohio by the MWCD as one of the grossest violations of public trust in Ohio with exposure to widespread pollution and destruction of property values by participating in this industry. The MWCD was given land by the federal government to protect under ORC 6101 which is obviously woefully inadequate as regulatory authority. This is a topic that needs to be closely scrutinized because not only can the MWCD tax property owners within the district for short-falls in operation expense, the population involved could be taxed heavily in the future for any cost of clean-up that the district incurs as a result of pollution and damages it is now creating by supporting unconventional shale drilling. The conservancy district has no accountability or transparency to its constituents for wise decisions and responsible stewardship of valuable public properties. This breach of democratic principles with little separation of power for checks and balances has allowed this large conservancy district to stray from its original charter for the sake of windfall profit.
The short-term gain of revenue and avoidance of expense at the cost of future clean up and remediation (if possible) and human health effects as well as environmental degradation and loss of revenue from recreation and agriculture, and other industries that plan to stay in Ohio must be weighed more realistically with the long-term perspective. Agencies and public works tempted to profit from the industry by leasing, selling water and providing cheap waste disposal that will result in exorbitant future costs must be held more accountable and charged with better stewardship of valuable resources. The conflict of interest the industry money has created for political campaigns and agency revenue needs to be removed.
Lack of Information and Training for Emergency Responders
Please see enclosed the letter to the Chair of the State Emergency Response Commission written by an informed and experienced member. We are very concerned that an emergency could be created in which responders are unaware of the hazards involved. The short-term industry money will be long gone by the time the degree of damage and waste is realized, leaving Ohio taxpayers to pay the price.
Detrimental Effects on Local Economies
Smaller hospitals are feeling the effects of the health requirements from transient workers in the gas fields which are often hired as contractors with little or no health insurance provisions. Communities are also experiencing higher incidences of traffic and occupational accidents, crime, drug use, housing shortages and rent increases for local residents. Once the drilling boom becomes a bust, the local economies will suffer again from the loss of revenue and the additional expense of any remediation of damages to roads and infrastructure, loss of environmental flow from water takings, and remediation of pollution of air, land and water that will be needed. These effects, as with coal and strip mining, could necessitate remediation into perpetuity if toxic chemicals from the long laterals left underground and Class II injection wells that are long abandoned allow seepage into groundwater and soil. The way it is now, Ohio is basically subsidizing the industry profits now while obligating future Ohio residents to higher taxes for water quality monitoring, cleanup and remediation, degraded property values, polluted air and water, and, most importantly, the harmful health effects for future generations this industry is now creating. This is certain to negatively impact the economy much more in the future than the positive impact being received now from the temporary construction and drilling jobs and tax revenue.
Background Information and Summary
Governor Kasich, you are probably unaware of how our volunteer group self-assembled. We started a year ago when Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, which has control of 20% of Ohio’s land mass leased Clendening reservoir for fracking. The MWCD amended its official plan in 2005 to justify a property tax assessment based upon the conservancy’s public charge to operate in the public interest. Over 5,000 property owners in the MWCD filed formal objections, losing after going through court to the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Property owners in the district have been have been paying this property tax for the last five years, generating approximately $11mm in additional revenue for this conservancy district per year. Now the MWCD has leased two public reservoirs for fracking, Clendening and Leesville, making over $40mm in signing bonuses. The MWCD plans to lease more reservoirs, with Seneca Lake, the third largest inland water body in Ohio next according to information we have been given. The MWCD wants to lease 7,000 acres around and under Seneca, with plans to support l2 frack pads with 44-45 long laterals, many extending beneath the reservoir. This is alarming to us because of the need for clean water with Seneca Lake being used for emergency drinking water supplies by the city of Cambridge during the drought last summer. This situation was probably made worse because the local water company, Guernsey County Water and Sewer, sells water from the drinking water reservoir, Wills Creek, for fracking and increased revenue for itself. This is happening at many public water utilities in Ohio. We know of one in Harrison County who drilled a well into an aquifer to sell water for fracking. This profit from precious, finite water supplies is disturbing in light of the projected future needs for clean water with global warming, predicted droughts and population growth.
We commissioned a report to justify our opposition to this leasing of public lands and sale of public water to support the unconventional shale drilling industry, a copy which is included in this letter. Despite numerous objections and testimonies to the MWCD Board and Conservancy Court, the conservation district continues to serve the unconventional gas drilling industry rather than its constituents and taxpayers, putting the public at risk for detrimental health effects and the degradation of the environment and property values. This is another subject we would like to discuss to find ways to ensure public agencies such as a conservancy district work for public benefit and not for industry profit and subsidy.
This meeting we are requesting would be attended by Dr. Peter Nara, Mr. Paul Rubin, Attorney Terry Lodge and other experts and environmental specialists who will want to take this important opportunity to speak directly and candidly with you and your representatives on this important subject. We are certain that the information we have amassed and the proposed issues and suggestions we have will certainly help your office to forge both a short-and long-term vision and pathway forward. We pledge to make this meeting the most informative and beneficial use of your valuable time and attention.
When all of the above concerns are taken into serious consideration, it becomes apparent that we have an environmental- and life-threatening problem in Ohio. It would be much easier to avoid the potentially lethal ramifications than to allow business as usual to proceed without caution, increased oversight and better regulations. We are hopeful that you will be able to listen to our professionals and our well-founded concerns to justify how a moratorium on fracking in Ohio will better serve the citizens while the necessary research is conducted. Future studies will justify better processes and regulations, if possible, to make fracking and other new energy technologies safer and more sustainable without destroying freshwater, making people sick, harming communities, agriculture and other industries and future generations. We seek to preserve our beautiful state, sustainably build the economy, avoid pollution and future cleanup costs, and promote governmental and regulatory advances that will better protect the environment and human health for future generations to come.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our urgent plea.
Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save our Water
(in alliance with Freshwater Accountability Project, www.FWAPOH.com)