By Melinda Zemper
The new state law requiring Ohio state parks to allow fracking on public lands is a recipe for ecological and economic disaster in Ohio. If there is just one methane leak poisoning groundwater with toxins and waste products from fracking fluid, there will be a mass exodus of talented people and good jobs fleeing Ohio. And those people and jobs may not return.
We have only to look as far as Flint, Michigan to see the lasting effect a “Frackgate” could have, not only on Ohioans’ health and welfare, but in the public’s trust in government. Is Ohio prepared to become the next poster child for ecological disaster?
House Bill 507 is bad law passed in a lame-duck session without public comment. With this law, our legislators pandered to Ohio’s oil and gas industry and have risked our clean air, clean drinking water and the growth of sustainable jobs of the future in exchange for dirty energy and dark money.
The federal government doesn’t regulate or require public disclosure of the ingredients in fracking fluid injected into the ground to bring up natural gas. That is the state’s responsibility. That means the Ohio Department of Natural Resources allows solvents, waste products and voltaic organic compounds (VOCs) to be injected into Ohio fracking wells, and possibly, eventually permeate our groundwater.
Why are the ingredients of the oil and gas industry’s “secret sauce” for its fracking fluid protected when we know clean air and groundwater are essential to life?
A fracking explosion in Belmont County in February 2018 created one of the worst methane leaks in U.S. history. For 20 days after workers lost control of the horizontal gas well, a raging fire released harmful methane emissions into the air around the eastern Ohio community.
The fracking industry’s reputation for self-regulation in Ohio and nationwide is notably poor. In 2018, a fracking well at Powhatan Point on the Ohio River exploded and spewed methane gas into the air at the rate of 120 million tons per hour for nearly 20 days.
American and Dutch scientists, which spotted the leak by satellite, agreed Powhatan was likely the largest methane leak in U.S. history. The amount of methane released into the air was more than the entire countries of France, Norway and the Netherlands combined in a year.
Where were the Environment Protection Agency and ODNR then, and where are they today on legislation to protect the public from corporations like XTO Energy − a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil − which operates the Powhatan well?
What reparation did XTO Energy make to Ohio, the nation, or the world to mitigate personal health effects and expected global warming amounts from that gargantuan leak?
The fracking boom in Ohio did not provide the jobs and increased population originally promised to Ohioans. What it has done is build a goldmine for fossil fuel industry shareholders who found eager friends at the state house. Some of these politicians accept fossil fuel campaign and dark money donations − and reciprocate by passing laws like HB 507.
The fracking industry needs strict regulation to ensure the health and safety of the people who live in and near fracked areas and to prevent future methane leaks. Methane contributes significantly to rising global temperatures.
We live in a pivotal moment in history. Either we continue to hurtle faster toward environmental oblivion or begin to do the hard work necessary to implement sustainable energy strategies and solutions.
There are 29 million acres of land in Ohio. Just 170,000 are set aside for state parks. These are beautiful, natural refuges in a world increasingly ugly and urbanized. The people of Ohio own them, not the Republican Party. Frackers need to stay off our land.
There will be a public meeting on fracking leases Feb. 1 at the ODNR office in Columbus. Let your local and state legislators know how you feel about this issue.
Melinda Zemper is president of Oak Tree Communications and lives in West Chester.
This opinion piece was originally published in the Cincinnati Enquirer on January 21, 2023.