By Randi Pokladnik
Recently, Energy in Depth, a pro-fossil fuel publication published a piece about the Ohio citizens who are trying to stop the leasing and fracking of Ohio’s public lands (Save Ohio Parks). The author specifically targeted a June meeting of the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Commission where Dr. Ted Auch, Youngstown Battalion Chief Silverio Caggiano and I presented fact-based evidence as to why fracking on or near Ohio’s parks would be disastrous for the parks, park visitors, and local residents. Throughout the article, experts and citizen members of Save Ohio Parks were referred to as “activists.”
People who care about the environment are often labeled by the opposition. We’ve been called tree-huggers, hippies, snowflakes, and protestors. The fossil fuel industry is especially fond of the label “activists.” The definition of an activist is a person who engages in social or political actions to make the world a better place.
It is not uncommon for environmental activists to be the target of ridicule and legal actions from corporations they are challenging. Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, the most-read environmental book ever published, was viciously attacked by the pesticide industry. Citizens are also the target of SLAPP suits. SLAPP stands for a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. These are frivolous lawsuits brought not for any legitimate grievance but to silence people are are speaking up about inconvenient facts. Unlike the majority of states, Ohio does not have anti-SLAPP laws to protect free speech.
Ironically, citizens taxes go toward subsidizing fossil fuels. “Conservative estimates put U.S. direct subsidies to the fossil fuel industry at roughly $20 billion per year; with 20 percent currently allocated to coal and 80 percent to natural gas and crude oil.” Yet, when it comes to cleaning up their environmental messes, the taxpayers are left with that tab too.
One can still see the lasting impact strip-mining has had on the counties of southeastern Ohio. Streams still run orange from acid mine drainage; the acidic, iron-sulfide-containing water that results from coal mining. Currently, federal funding (STREAM ACT) is helping to pay for the cleanup of millions of miles of contaminated streams.
Ohio’s citizens are still dealing with old oil and gas wells left from conventional drilling which occurred, in some cases, over a century ago. These wells are dubbed “orphan wells” because they have been left or abandoned by an unknown company. They continue to leak methane, the dangerous heat-trapping greenhouse gas into our atmosphere. Ohio has identified over 900 orphan wells, but some estimate the number of abandoned wells to be in the thousands. Federal infrastructure money is being used to help plug some wells.
Throughout history, Appalachian residents have had to live with the destruction left behind from extractive industries. Now the externalities of fracking will be perpetrated on our beautiful state parks. We know from experience and countless peer-reviewed studies that fracking causes health problems, produces light and noise pollution, requires enormous amounts of freshwater, creates thousands of gallons of radioactive produced water, and emits dangerous water and air pollutants. Yet 81 Ohio Republican politicians and our governor went ahead and pushed through the legislation (HB 507) that kickstarted fracking of our public lands.
Gov. Mike DeWine has said the well pads will not be on the park land, but Ohio has some of the most lenient set-back laws for fracked wells in the nation. Ohio Code 1509.021 says “a well shall not be within 50 feet of a stream, river, watercourse, water well, pond, lake, or other body of water and 150 feet of a property boundary.” The lights, noise, water and air emissions will certainly leave the well pad area.
Long after a well is fracked, the fracking infrastructure including gathering lines, compressor stations and storage containers, leak volatile organic compounds into the rural communities. Earthworks has photographed and filmed this infrastructure with special thermal imaging cameras (FLIR GASFINDER 320 Infrared Camera). The cameras are also able to identify the compounds leaking from the structures which include: benzene, methane, octane, toluene and MEK.
One cannot claim to want a livable planet and turn the state’s parks into a fossil fuel mineral colony for an industry that is basically killing the earth. Those Ohio citizens that the fossil fuel industry labels as “activists” are moms and dads, grandpas and grandmas, fishermen, boaters, hunters, bikers, doctors, teachers, and scientists. We know what is right and wrong.
Allowing out-of-state companies to come into our state parks, to forever damage them so they can extract our resources for a profit is wrong. Preserving our state lands for generations to come and protecting our planet from climate change is right.
In the words of Utah Phillips, “The Earth is not dying, she is being killed, and those that are doing it have names and addresses.”
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.
Top image: Save Ohio Parks rally at Salt Fork State Park by Paul Becker.