By Randi Pokladnik
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This quote is from Dr. Seuss’s 1971 book “The Lorax.” These words may serve as a warning to Ohioans and out-of-state tourists who fail to take action to save Ohio’s parks and forests from being fracked. House Bill 507 opened our public lands to the endless greed of our politicians and the oil and gas industry. The bill passed along party lines, during a lame-duck session, with no public comment period. It was quickly signed by Governor DeWine.
As of May 30th, oil and gas companies can “nominate” land parcels within citizen-owned state parks and forests to obtain fracking leases. Parcel leases need approval from the four-member Oil and Gas Land Management Commission, a group which lacks any scientific expertise. Currently, eight parcels have been nominated. They include almost the entirety (302 acres) of Valley Run Wildlife Area in Carroll County, with one well pad being less than 700 feet from the boundary. A 66-acre parcel in Zepernick Wildlife Area in Columbiana County, with a well pad 3.6 miles away from the boundary. Finally, 281 parcels which total over 9,000 acres in Salt Fork State Park have been nominated to be fracked. Well pads will surround the park, located from 406 to 6,000 feet from the park boundary.
The Ohio Ornithological Society opposed the fracking leases saying, “Our state parks make up less than three percent of Ohio’s land mass and have been set aside as repositories for biodiversity where Ohioans can seek nature, enjoy the scenic rivers and the best wildlife watching Ohio has to offer.”
Thousands of peer reviewed studies show that fracking activities cause water and air pollution, release climate-changing methane gases, increase dangerous traffic accidents, require millions of gallons of freshwater, create millions of gallons of toxic produced water, and contribute to a plethora of human illness including endocrine disruption and cancer. Unlike New York State, which banned fracking based on experts’ studies of health effects, Ohio’s politicians have ignored the scientific studies and have welcomed the industry. Now, in an effort to generate money for the state, our precious forests and streams will become the next target of an industry that is the main contributor to climate change.
Scientific studies show that fracking harms other organisms besides humans. This includes plants, birds, bats, soil microbes, aquatic organisms, and insects. Fracking requires land for well pads, access roads, storage areas for water, chemicals, sand, wastewater, compressor stations and collector pipelines. Forest fragmentation results in an increase in predation and invasive species as well as a loss of species which prefer a continuous forest canopy.
Noise from fracking interferes with communication of species like bats and birds, as well as impairing hunting by owls. Light pollution from flaring affects migratory birds and nocturnal animals. Artificial light from well pads also disrupts predator-prey relationships.
Open wastewater ponds become death traps for water birds, turtles, frogs, muskrats, and other animals. A 2017 studyfound that up to 16 percent of fracked wells reported a spill each year between 2005 and 2014, totaling 6,600 spills. Brine spills from frack pads enter the environment and can kill birds, plants and soil microbes.
Fracking has the potential to alter aquatic biodiversity and increase methyl mercury concentrations at the base of food webs. Studies show that riparian bird species accumulate barium and strontium from frack waste water in their feathers.
Where will the millions of gallons of water needed for fracking come from? Studies show that stream water quality, sediment, and dissolved oxygen is affected when water is withdrawn in significant quantities. This affects the types and numbers of aquatic species that can thrive in these streams. “The closer well pads, roads, and pipelines are built to streams, the higher the risk of water quality degradation, both in the stream itself and downstream.”
The birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and snakes, as well as the forested ecosystems that make up Ohio’s public lands, have played a major role in the lives of many of Ohio’s citizens and out-of-state visitors. The state parks and forests are our playgrounds, our places of solace, our outdoor learning labs, and they belong to us. So, like the Lorax in Dr. Seuss’ book, we must speak up for the wildlife and the forests; they cannot defend themselves against the heinous industrial development that will soon be invading our public lands and their homes.
Comments to the commission on the nominated parcels can be submitted until July 20th. Information is on the webpage (https://saveohioparks.org). The page also contains information on the environmental, social, climate, and health impacts of fracking. There are talking points that can help you craft your comments. To submit comments using an email message, put the nomination number in the subject line (see https://saveohioparks.org webpage for numbers). Then write your comments about why you think this parcel should NOT be fracked. Send the email to: Commission.Clerk@oglmc.ohio.gov. Be sure to get comments in by the due date (45 days after nomination.) The wildlife at Salt Fork State Park, Zepernick Wildlife Area, and Valley Run Wildlife Area are counting on you to comment by July 20th.
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 letter was originally published in the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy on July 6, 2023.
Photo: Zepernick Wildlife Area by Cathy Cowan Becker