By Randi Pokladnik
A recent commentary in the January 6, 2023, Ohio Outdoor News titled “Outdoor recreation: Now an $862 billion industry” detailed the economic benefits of outdoor recreation in the United States. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis 2021 data showed outdoor recreation generates $862 billion in economic output and 4.5 million jobs.
According to a report from The Ohio State University, “the contribution of outdoor recreational trips in Ohio to Ohio’s overall economic activity is estimated to be $8.1 billion per year, which amounts to 1.3% of Ohio’s economy. The outdoor recreational sector is estimated to employ 132,790 workers in Ohio, or 1.9% of Ohio’s workforce.”
Ohio has 75 state parks, 20 state memorials, 25 state forests and 12 state wildlife areas. The Ohio State Park system encompasses over 170,000 acres of land, and over 31 million visitors come to an Ohio park each year. Ohio’s state forests cover about 200,000 acres and are located in 21 counties.
For many people, both in and out of state, Ohio state parks and forests remain a sanctuary for them to escape their hectic lives and find the peace that nature offers. It also provides a space for recreating, bird watching, fishing, hiking, canoeing, boating, hunting, and biking. These state areas may soon fall prey to oil and gas development.
During the recent “lame duck” session, Ohio’s legislature and Gov. DeWine rushed to pass HB 507. The amended bill expediates land-leasing for high pressure hydraulic fracking into Ohio’s state parks, forests, and state university campuses. Since 2011, Ohio law has said an agency “may” lease land for oil and gas drilling, but the new bill will “compel state agencies to lease these lands.”
The Oil and Gas Land Management Commission met on Wednesday (Feb 1) to discuss HB 507 and adopt rules for reviewing proposed parcels to be drilled. Currently, little more than a “showing of parcel identification and registration, proof of insurance and satisfaction of financial assurance” are all that is required before obtaining a drilling lease.
Fracking and all the build-out that this industry requires will dramatically damage these fragile forest ecosystems. To believe that one can conduct fracking and still sustain a vibrant, healthy forest ecosystem is ludicrous. The Halliburton loophole legislation of 2005 exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. Fracking is virtually unregulated.
Who will guarantee that every stage of the process will be conducted in a way that will not degrade the state lands that supposedly belong to Ohio’s tax-paying citizens?
Fracking infrastructure, pipelines, well pads, and compressor stations, would harm and even destroy the plants, trees and their seed banks . A study conducted in the Fernow Experimental Forest in West Virginia showed that the forest ecosystem was affected by forest clearing, erosion, and road building. Vegetation death resulted from direct exposure to fluid spills.
Fracking wastewater known as produced water has been found to contain water soluble radionuclides. “Elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions are also present in the Marcellus shale wastewaters.”
Peer reviewed studies show that watersheds surrounding frack well pads test positive for radioactive substances. Drilling companies deliberately spread wastewater on roads and fields. Pollutants from the wastewater can then contaminate local waterways. Drilling operators sometimes spray wastewater on dirt and gravel roads to control dust or on paved roads to melt ice.
Fracking well pads and infrastructure will require clear cutting trees and vegetation. The combined land needed for fracking one well can total more than 30 acres. This fragmentation could affect plant reproduction. The amount of equipment brought onto the sites introduces and encourages the spread of invasive species. These species hitch-hike on gravel delivered to build pads and roads and in mud on the tires and undercarriages of trucks traveling those roads.
Fracking requires huge quantities of concrete for well casings and gravel for well pad stabilization. This means that the traffic in the region will increase tremendously, becoming a burden on roads and to local citizens living in the area. Each well requires approximately 592 one-way trips, with a truck that carries between 80,000 to 100,000 pounds when fully- loaded. Multiple wells are drilled on each pad, and each bore is fracked multiple times. The traffic from the development of one well is equivalent to 3.4 million car trips.
The process of high-pressure hydraulic fracking requires 4 million to 6 million gallons of water per well. This surface water will no doubt be withdrawn from the local streams resulting in harm to aquatic organisms and can affect the diversity of species too.
Fracking fluids typically contain chemical additives, e.g. friction reducers, biocides and surfactants. There are over 400 chemicals that can be used, many of which are known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. This includes the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS. Very little is known about the potential effects of the chemicals, metals, organics and other contaminants once they enter terrestrial or aquatic food webs. There are numerous cases of fracking fluid spills killing fish.
Land clearing and construction of wells, pipelines and roads can result in excessive sediment in surface water. The researchers found that the amount of sediment in seven major streams in the Fayetteville Shale strongly corresponded with the density of gas wells in their drainage area.
Fracking operations have been known to allow flaring of natural gas. This results in flames being visible in the night sky. Studies show this process affects plant diversity. Fracking operations are very noisy. Noise pollution generated by natural gas extraction causes some avian species to avoid breeding sites resulting in reduced bird abundance. The data of impacts of chronic anthropogenic noise from energy-sector activity on abundance of songbirds shows a marked decline in the bird populations.
Climate change, the elephant in the room, is being exacerbated by our reliance on fossil fuels. Fracking operations release fugitive methane emissions that are much higher in quantity than the industry reports. Methane gas is about 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping infrared light, which contributes to climate change.
The aesthetic beauty of the forest will be forever damaged with the visible scars of fracking operations left behind. Who wants to hike through a park surrounded by frack pads, pipelines, access roads, and other related structures? Who wants to ingest wild game and fish taken from areas where they could be contaminated with carcinogens and endocrine disrupting chemicals?
Allowing fracking in our outdoor recreation areas, state parks and forests is a big mistake.
Dr. Randi Pokladnik was born and raised in Ohio. She earned an associate degree in Environmental Engineering, a BA in Chemistry, MA and PhD in Environmental Studies. She is certified in hazardous materials regulations and holds a teaching license in science and math. She worked as a research chemist for National Steel Corporation for 12 years and taught secondary and post-secondary science and math classes for more than 20 years. Her research includes an analysis of organic farming regulations and environmental issues impacting the Appalachian region of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. She lives near Tappan Lake in an eco- log home that she and her husband built in 2001. Her hobbies include running, gardening, sewing and doing fun things with her granddaughters.
This opinion piece was originally published in Outdoor News on March 14, 2023.