JOINT PRESS RELEASE: BUCKEYE FOREST COUNCIL & FRESHWATER ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT:
Toxic Waste Sites Enter Ohio Communities Without Oversight
GRAND RAPIDS, Ohio — Ohio residents are now discovering that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has issued “Chief’s Orders” for oil and gas industry waste disposal, processing, recycling and dumping facilities in virtual secrecy. Local communities are left out of decision making by the ODNR in an end run to allow new facilities to handle the industry’s waste ahead of regulations, including the hazardous chemicals and radioactive waste from horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking). It also appears that the ODNR withholds information in response to citizens’ public records requests long enough to avoid the appeal process. “For a regulatory agency responsible to protect Ohio’s natural resources to allow this type of activity without notifying the local communities that will be affected to inform them and address their concerns demonstrates the complete failure of that agency to operate as responsive to taxpayers with a mandate to regulate and protect. The ODNR is the fox guarding the public interest hen house,” stated Donna Carver, interim Executive Director of Buckeye Forest Council.
Repeated public records requests made to ODNR have so far revealed 23 different facilities permitted to operate the hazardous business of separating and downblending solid and liquid fracking wastes, which are often heavily contaminated with industrial chemicals and radioactivity. And there may be more facilities in the works. Although there are almost no rules and regulations in place, the ODNR orders actually allow the facilities to begin operations without important regulatory oversight. Toxic and radioactive fracking waste is being processed, recycled, and disposed of ahead of rules for trace-ability, monitoring or awareness by regulatory agencies or local community governance.
This lack of public notification – which fracking critics call a deliberate strategy – avoids resistance from local residents. Those who do find out about the plans for their local communities are not likely to be happy about them. This was illustrated last week in Belmont County and Youngstown, Ohio. In Barnesville, local citizens learned of a permit for 13,500,000 tons of petrochemical and radioactive fracking waste to be combined with coal ash to build a toxic 200-acre foundation mat for an industrial park two miles from town. Public inquiries to city and township officials revealed that local governments had little knowledge of the plans by the local Port Authority or of the potential public health and environmental impacts.
In Youngstown, residents discovered that Industrial Waste Control/Ground Tech, Inc. received ODNR orders to allow the processing of a variety of radioactive fracking wastes in a residential neighborhood close to the central business district. According to long-time Youngstown resident, Susie Beiersdorfer of Frackfree Mahoning Valley: “There were no zoning reviews or special permits found for this facility at the Youngstown Planning Department. We also requested public records from the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency for information, and nothing was on file. The mayor and council did not know about the plans for the storage and frack waste processing facility. Even though we learned of this facility after the ODNR’s orders were issued outside the appeal deadline, we still filed an appeal with the Oil and Gas Commission because the community was not given important information in advance. We held a press conference and are going door to door to inform local residents of the ODNR’s lack of due diligence. This is another example of why it is important to vote yes for the Community Bill of Rights Charter amendment to regain local control.”
“We don’t fully understand how plans like this could move forward so quickly without normal permitting, environmental impact assessment, regulatory agency investigation and local oversight, but this is happening quickly throughout Ohio,” stated Lea Harper of the Freshwater Accountability Project (FWAP). “In response, FWAP and the Columbus-based Buckeye Forest Council are undertaking a statewide project to warn county commissioners and grassroots leaders of secret fracking waste plans coming to their communities so that elected officials will at least have the opportunity to look into it and protect their populace. People have a need to know the plans to bring hazardous and radioactive frack waste into their communities.”
Teresa Mills, consultant for the Buckeye Forest Council, obtained public records revealing the applications and final Chief’s orders for different companies to profit from the fracking industry’s expanding stream of liquid and solid toxic and radioactive waste. “The fact that the oil and gas industry is being allowed to build and operate these facilities before rules have even been written needs to be brought to the public’s attention. I know of no other industry in the state that has been allowed to do this,” stated Mills.
Because of lax regulations and low costs, Ohio has become the destination of choice for disposal of hundreds of thousands of tons of frack waste annually. About 51% of toxic frack liquid injected in Ohio comes from out of state. In Pennsylvania, by contrast, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oversees frack waste disposal, which has made disposal much more difficult and expensive than to export it to Ohio.
“With proposals to barge frack waste on the Ohio River, development of rail infrastructure near injection wells, and the rapidly-expanding numbers of trucks coming into Ohio, it’s clear there is a plan being executed to make Ohio the frack waste dumping heart of it all,” continued Lea Harper. “By warning local communities about these plans, there is at least a chance that the elected officials and residents will get involved. We think the ODNR is issuing these orders ahead of regulations in secret to avoid notice of the people who will be most affected. Already, residents in Youngstown and the Barnesville area are taking action to stop the truck traffic and the proposed processing and dumping facilities. We believe the ODNR does not want the local community to know of these facilities because, rightly so, people would not want to live near them. But people have every right to be informed and hold their state and local elected officials accountable for protecting them and their property values.”
According to Tish O’Dell, Organizer for Ohio Community Rights Network (OHCRN) and Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) representative, “This is just another example of industry working through government officials and agencies to treat our communities as resource colonies. People are realizing that their government has stripped them of local control by passing pre-emptive laws throughout Ohio and the nation. Now corporations have more rights than the people living in the community. This allows them to legally harm that community and violate residents’ basic civil and property rights. We cannot look to the current government structure for protection and must start passing laws that protect our communities from becoming sacrifice zones in the false promise of jobs and flag-waving propaganda campaigns fabricated to fool people in order to reap huge corporate profits at public expense.”
The ODNR receives revenue from frack waste and permitting, creating a conflict of interest and motive to delay needed regulations. “ODNR is using a ‘12th of Never’ regulatory strategy,” observed FWAP attorney Terry Lodge. “Their orders are open-ended; you get to handle dangerous wastes without any rules until six months after ODNR issues regulations. But the ODNR isn’t issuing any regulations, and there is no time requirement to do so. This means the industry profits from completely unregulated processes while they offload onto the local community the costs of unmonitored air and water pollution, potentially leaving a toxic legacy for generations.”
“Since the ODNR and regulatory and governing bodies have not done so, we must contact the communities that will host these facilities to inform and educate them about what is happening,” added Harper. “We intend to do what we can to stop the industry from cheaply disposing of its waste at a huge future cost to local taxpayers for remediation. If an aquifer gets contaminated, how would anyone know, and how would it be restored? People have a right to know their community is targeted as a subsidized dumping ground for the single unregulated industry of fracking. When the boom becomes a bust, it is not the local taxpayer who should pay to clean up the mess.”
“Right now, Pennsylvania is trying to reconstruct where frack waste has been disposed of because of a lack of trace-ability of where the waste went,” said Lodge. “In West Virginia, they’ve reported high levels of radioactivity in landfill leachate from unmonitored disposal of frack waste at a municipal landfill. We don’t want Ohio to realize, too late, that frack waste has destroyed air and water quality along with human health and property values. We have a right to know about what can harm us ahead of it happening, especially when intentionally allowed without necessary rules and regulations in place. ”
It is increasingly apparent the State of Ohio is serving the oil and gas industry at the future expense of the people who live there. Local communities are advised to become informed and involved. Contact Buckeye Forest Council (www.BuckeyeForestCouncil.org) or FreshWater Accountability Project (www.FWAP.org) or for more information.