Environmental agencies across Ohio rallied Saturday at Salt Fork State Park to protest fracking under Ohio state parks forests, wildlife areas and other public lands.
Salt Fork is the first park on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources list to be fracked by Big Oil.
About 65 people from Save Ohio Parks, Ohio Environmental Council, Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Third Act Ohio, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Leave No Child Inside, and Ohio Sierra Club picnicked and rallied against fracking on Ohio public lands.
Save Ohio Parks is a new group made up of volunteers from across the state. Speakers touched on fracking’s effects on animals, plants and soils; methane and toxic chemical effects on human health; and how fracking will impact Ohio state parks’ freshwater lakes, streams and creeks.
Randi Pokladnik, Ph.D., a research chemist and ecologist, said fracking Ohio’s state parks and public lands will destroy natural habitats, reduce native plants and animals and irretrievably alter the face of Ohio’s taxpayer-supported and protected natural places.
“The mixed mesophytic forests that make up Salt Fork State Park and many of the other state lands in southeast Ohio are second only to the Amazon Rainforest for diversity,” she said. “Fracking on or near these lands will permanently alter the land and aquatic ecosystems and negatively affect the species which depend on them. Fracking is not compatible with a healthy forest ecosystem.”
An unnamed oil and gas company has applied to frack 281 parcels with 16 well pads surrounding Salt Fork’s 20,000-acre park at distances as close as 400 feet from park borders. Well pads can sit on 5- to 20-acre plots of land clear-cut of trees. The pads are paved with cement. with a fracking well around 120 feet tall installed on the pad.
Typically, from 4 million to 10 million gallons of fresh water nearby are taken from local lakes and streams for each fracked well. Eighty-nine wells will be fracked at Salt Fork alone, and each well will require multiple frackings.
Undisclosed combinations of chemicals, sand and water and used to fracture the shale layers and allow trapped gas and oil to travel to the surface, with fracking wastewater transported by trucks to injection wells for storage. The water is effectively taken out of the drinking supply forever. Millions of gallons of fresh water, if not billions, will come from Salt Fork and the streams that surround it.
Jess Grim, of Third Act Ohio, said Ohioans are going to wake up one day very soon, decide to take a trip to one of the fabulous state parks in southeast Ohio, and be shocked by what they find.
“They will find massive construction surrounding the park as operations get underway to frack our state parks and public lands,” said Grim. “People need to be made aware that this is happening now so they can join the fight to stop it.”
Dr. Joe Blanda of Cleveland, of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told the group he blames the death of his 17-year-old son in 2013 on fracking. His son died of terminal brain cancer linked in environmental toxins.
Blanda said he, his son, and friends regularly spent long weekends biking, fishing and swimming at friend’s place in Jefferson County.
“In the evenings we would sit by a campfire and look out over the distant valley at four or five fracking pad flares,” he said. “In fact, there was a fracking pad on the neighboring property about a quarter of a mile away. I foolishly didn’t realize the danger … After his diagnosis I quickly learned about all the environmental toxins associated with cancer and other medical conditions. I can’t stand here and claim that fracking toxins caused his death. But I do wonder, especially now that we have plenty of scientific research linking fracking to serious health conditions.”
Blanda said in 1970, one of 300 Americans were affected by cancer. Today that number is one out of three. He believes his son was one of those statistics.
“So why is the incidence of cancer one out of three today?” Blanda asked. “What is different compared to 1970, when it was one out of 300? Our air, water and food are full of toxic chemicals. And we can thank the fossil fuel industry for a big part of that.”
He said a recent research study in Pennsylvania that showed children living within one mile of a fracking pad have a three times higher incidences of childhood cancer.
“The minimum setback in Ohio is 100 feet,” he said, “not even close to a mile.”
Roxanne Groff, a long-time Athens County-based environmental activist and Save Ohio Parks co-founder, said after the event that she doubts Ohioans can be protected from the ill effects of fracking at Salt Fork.
“My question is, how do ODNR director Mary Mertz and Gov. Mike DeWine intend to protect Salt Fork Lake from being contaminated by the proposed 89 wells to be drilled around the park?” she said. “The lake is the only source of drinking water for the park and its visitors. The answer is, they cannot. The oil and gas industry and its lies and false promises lure our lawmakers into making the wrong decisions about how dangerous fracking really is. People need to stand up, fight the process and tell our leaders, ‘Hands off our lands!’”
Austin Warehime, a Cincinnati environmental attorney who grew up just outside Salt Fork State Park, said he understands why people might allow fracking on their private property. Fracking revenue allows some people to go on vacation for the first time in their lives or make property improvements that can help secure their farms for future generations.
“Eastern Ohio is the poorest region of Ohio,” he said. “The people here see fracking as economic opportunity, jobs, new restaurants, and financial stability. If we want to stop fracking in eastern Ohio, we must give eastern Ohio other opportunities that sets the region up for future success.”
The irony about accepting fracking revenue, however, is that fracking revenue is temporary, while the health and environmental impacts from it can last generations.
Jenny Morgan of Columbus, singer, songwriter and founder of Leave No Child Inside Central Ohio Collaborative, a nonprofit encouraging young children to get out in nature, provided vocal entertainment.
“Research shows children need frequent time in nature for their healthy development,” said Morgan. “They need clean and safe parks for their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It would be a crime, an absolute crime to spoil our parks for this and future generations. We must do everything we can to save our parks from dirty and dangerous gas and oil drilling.”
“Ohio’s public lands enhance our quality of life,” added MollyJo Stanley, southeast Ohio regional director for the Ohio Environmental Council. “Salt Fork is Ohio’s largest state park and one of our state’s most important public lands. Despite the very real consequences fracking poses to the health of our environment, our climate, and our communities, the oil and gas industry is pushing to exploit the beloved state park for monetary profit. We must speak up now to protect Salt Fork.”
Aaron Dunbar from Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action said it’s time to hold our lawmakers accountable for the health and environmental damage fracking will inflict on Ohioans.
“To quote the late, great labor organizer, singer, storyteller and poet Utah Philips,” he said, “’The Earth is not dying. It is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.’ It’s imperative at this crucial juncture in history that we hold these individuals accountable for their crimes against nature and the human race and do everything in our power to avert this corporate plundering of everything that makes our lives worth living.”
The group today was spirited, and an anti-fracking movement is just beginning to grow across Ohio, said Cathy Cowan Becker, co-founder of Save Ohio Parks. “We are up against the most powerful and profitable industry in human history, and it will take all of us to stop fracking at Salt Fork and our other 74 Ohio state parks.”
The ODNR’s Oil and Gas Land Management Commission will receive public comments about fracking at Salt Fork State Park until Thursday, July 20. It has the ability to deny a fracking lease.
The groups at the rally urge the public to write personal letters explaining why fracking should not be allowed at Salt Fork to the Oil and Gas Land Management Commission at: Commission.Clerk@oglmc.ohhio.gov.
To learn more about fracking in Ohio, visit the Save Ohio Parks website at https://www.saveohioparks.org. The website addresses how fracking in Ohio affects fertility and human health; climate and rising temperatures; plants, animals, soils and the environment; local communities; Ohio democracy; and the laws that made fracking possible in Ohio.
According to reports by Columbus TV station WCMH, HB 507 took effect in April and was immediately challenged in court. On April 10, Franklin County Judge Kimberly Cocroft denied environmental groups’ request that she temporarily block the state’s enforcement of HB 507, which makes it easier for oil and gas companies to obtain a fracking lease for Ohio’s state park lands.
The lawsuit claimed state lawmakers “skirted constitutional requirements when considering HB 507.” Cocroft dismissed claims that expanded drilling could corrupt Ohio’s public land and those who enjoy it.
“The Court finds that any reference regarding an injury to the recreational, cultural, and aesthetic interests in the lands to the plaintiffs’ members is speculative, at best, and does not constitute an immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage,” Cocroft wrote.
In December, Encino Energy of Texas, which acquired all of Chesapeake Energy’s holdings in Ohio in 2018, offered the state up to $2 billion in royalties and signing bonuses for the right to drill under Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County, according to records provided by the ODNR.
The company’s initial request was denied to allow the state’s Oil and Gas Land Management Commission time to finalize rules governing the administration of those leases. The process is now in place with an online portal available for applications.
This article was originally published in The Times Leader on July 5, 2023.
Photos by Frank Bosso and Paul Becker.