Columbus, Ohio – As the unconventional shale gas drilling (fracking) industry continues to expand in Ohio with what critics call inadequate regulation, directly impacted communities are seeking answers and assistance from legislators and regulators to protect their communities. To further those efforts, the FreshWater Accountability Project (FWAP) sponsored a conference on Tuesday, May 17, at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium to urge Ohio legislators and regulators to learn the from several expert presenters the environmental and public health impacts of its rapid deployment, infrastructure buildout and waste stream disposal.
“There is a tendency in our system of government, especially with too much corporate influence, for those in charge to ignore inconvenient truths until there is a catastrophe. Then the hiding, finger-pointing and blame plays out in public after it is too late and the damage is done,” stated Lea Harper, Managing Director of FWAP and conference organizer. “This conference is our sincere attempt to inform and educate those who are looking the other way while Ohioans are being harmed by fracking. We are insisting something must be done before a human health catastrophe much bigger than Flint, Michigan’s water crisis unfolds.”
The conference hoped to provide the information and education regulators and legislators need from sources not connected to the oil and gas industry. Organizers invited regulators from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ONDR), the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Department of Health, the Kasich Administration and all Ohio legislators. The conference was organized in the Statehouse Atrium with accessibility for regulators and legislators in mind, but few managed to make an appearance to learn from the experts.
Scientists, attorneys and professors from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York shared their research and findings about the environmental and public health impacts of the fracking industry. Some of the guest speakers asserted that due to dismantled regulations and removal of local controls and zoning authority of communities targeted by the industry, fracking has been allowed to artificially flourish by externalizing costs onto the public to subsidize profits. One example of the lack of oversight presenters pointed to is the ever-growing amount of toxic, radioactive frack waste produced by the oil and gas being falsely labeled “non-hazardous,” which allows it to be cheaply disposed of in injection wells and landfills, processed, incinerated and recycled without safe handling and disposal. There is little to no traceability for the origins or final disposal of the waste created, and potentially radioactive “brine” is allowed to be processed through public water systems and spread on roads for ice and dust control. A vast majority of the waste from fracking is allowed to be dumped in public landfills without measuring for levels of radioactivity and could bio-accumulate over time in air, soil and water.
Professor James O’Reilly of the University of Cincinnati Department of Public Health and author of the textbook The Law of Fracking, a presenter at the conference observed, “Ohio’s legacy matters to all Ohioans. Fracking’s radioactive waste lasts 1,600 years. Proper controls and rigorous oversight of fracking is essential.”
Dr. Julie Weatherington-Rice, a senior scientist for Bennett & Williams Environmental Consulting, also a conference presenter asked, “What does it take to wake up Ohio’s government to the hazards of unconventional oil and gas production in our state? We have had catastrophic fires, explosions, earthquakes, and uncontrolled well releases. We have evacuated communities and workers have been injured and killed. We currently have a non-replaceable public water supply off line in eastern Ohio because of a brine tank truck spill with no clear date when it will be safe to use again. If evacuating communities, injuring and killing workers and first responders and shutting down public water supplies is not enough to wake our state government up, what is it going to take to put better protection and safeguards in place? Who pays for the damages?”
Because the ODNR is given exclusive authority over the industry, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Health must work through ODNR to protect the environment and health of Ohioans. Critics maintain that ODNR works more to protect the oil and gas industry than the public impacted by the industry.
Jensen Silvis, attorney for FreshWater Accountability Project and conference presenter said, “There are too many regulatory loopholes at the federal and state levels to allow fracking to degrade public health and the environment. We need to educate ourselves and our representatives regarding the facts and close the legal gaps allowing the industry to proceed and pollute at public harm and expense.”