Frack pad in Monroe County. Photo by Ted Auch / FracTracker Alliance

Ohio is one of the few states that encourages its Department of Natural Resources to permit fracking in state parks and public lands. Applications from oil and gas companies have already been submitted for leases to drill for the Utica and Marcellus shale (methane) gas that lies beneath them.

Methane gas is known as “natural gas” by the oil and gas (fossil fuel) industry, but its effects on our health, air, soil and climate are poisonous and not natural at all.

Effects of fracking on our climate

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas. It’s routinely released into the air during the fracking process due to accidents, leaks or intentional flares (when methane is purposely ignited). The fracking industry is largely unregulated by the state of Ohio or federal government, so large leaks and flares can continue for a long time and contribute substantially to rising global temperatures and climate warming.

Methane is up to 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (think car exhaust), so while it is reabsorbed in the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide, methane accelerates rising temperatures and climate warming.

Recent research indicates that the increase in fracking over the past decade caused a global spike in methane being released into the atmosphere. Fracking has accelerated climate change and global warming and will continue to do so if it remains pervasive and unregulated. Robert Howarth, climatologist at Cornell University, said in 2019 groundbreaking research that the likely culprit for that acceleration is shale and gas oil.

JobsOhio, the state’s economic development agency, says on its website that 85 percent of all shale gas production growth in the United States since 2011 has been in Ohio.

Ohio plays an outsized role in methane gas emissions and its contribution to rising global temperatures. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, state legislators, and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, with its 2,000 oil and gas members, may well have the nefarious distinction of being among the largest climate villains on the planet.

Ohio plays an outsized role in methane gas emissions and its contribution to rising global temperatures. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, state legislators, and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, with its 2,000 oil and gas members, may well have the nefarious distinction of being among the largest climate villains on the planet.

With oil companies given free reign to lease park and public lands to frack, how much more methane will these companies emit annually into the atmosphere? And will we, the people, let them?

Fracking is unregulated, dirty and dangerous

Fracking is unregulated by the state of Ohio and federal government. Four states have already banned fracking (and California will in 2024), and 23 states require oil companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in fracking wastewater.

Ohio does not, despite evidence that PFAS chemicals have been used in oil and gas fracking wells since 2013. In Torch, Ohio, in Athens County, two fracking injection wells were recently reported as receiving wastewater reported with PFAS. PFAS is a group of “forever” chemicals linked to cancers and birth defects.

There are already 4,000 active oil wells and 900 abandoned oil and gas wells in Ohio. Oil companies may have well pads located outside a park so drilling may not be immediately visible to the average visitor, yet widely used horizontal wells can run up to two miles deep under our parks.

Image by Emily Eng/Sightline Institute

Fracking draws 4 million to 10 million gallons of Ohio’s fresh water from streams and rivers per well and returns it poisoned with unregulated toxic chemicals as wastewater, making that water unusable for drinking water.

Fracking also causes low-level earthquakes that can destabilize gas and water lines and cause percolation of toxic chemicals into our aquifers. Other articles in this section discuss the health, environmental, and legal effects of fracking.

The good news is that with bona fide green energies incorporated into our energy grid, Ohio and our nation will need not more methane gas. Wind and solar capacity are already slated to outstrip fracked gas and coal by 2024.

With oil in less demand as the world embraces and transitions to sustainable energy sources like wind and solar, the fossil fuel industry wants to secure a market for the next 30 years and has focused on Ohio to do so.

Ohio’s Marcellus and Utica shale oil will provide methane gas for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will run through Appalachia from West Virginia to North Carolina. It’s estimated to emit about 90 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, equivalent to 26 U.S. coal plants or 19 million passenger vehicles per year. The pipeline will provide up to 2 billion cubic feet of methane gas per day from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to consumers in North and South Carolina.

Oil and gas industry needs to be regulated

We know from recent history that the Ohio oil and gas industry’s reputation for self-regulation is notably poor. In 2018, a fracking well at Powhatan Point in Belmont County 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, who 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 emit in a single year.

Ohio Highway Patrol aerial photo of the Powhatan Point fracking explosion

XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, operated the Powhatan well. A former employee, Michael Chang, a chemical engineer who worked for ExxonMobil and was interviewed for the Frontline video series, “The Power of Big Oil,” said he resigned from the company in 2019 because he felt the company was not monitoring methane leaks.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences corroborates Chang’s testimony. The study states that from 2010 to 2019, methane pollution from the U.S. oil and gas industry was about 70 percent higher than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates.

This means a generally accepted climate figure — that methane contributes about 25 percent of all global carbon emissions — is actually much, much higher.

The Proceedings study suggests the federal government’s regulations for detecting methane leaks are woefully inadequate and the EPA must leverage new technology to get a better idea of just how much methane is leaking — and hold companies accountable. Save Ohio Parks intends to be a part of that effort.

What will Ohio’s climate be like in 2050?

While we all recognize politics is the largest driver of Ohio and federal policy on climate change, Aaron B. Wilson, a climatologist at The Ohio State University, focuses on the science.

Wilson is part of the team of scientists from around the world who contribute research results and data to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The earth, he said, is on a trajectory to reach an average temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, and 4 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit by 2095.

According to Wilson, rising temperatures for Ohio will mean:

Hotter temperatures

The number of days with temperatures higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit will likely increase from 20 to 40 days per year currently to 40 to 80 days per year by 2050, with Ohio’s climate resembling southern Illinois by 2030 and Louisiana by 2095. This means our children and grandchildren will experience almost three months of 90-degree heat in a year — the equivalent of an entire season.

Fewer seasons

We’ll continue to experience a blurring of our distinct four seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter into just two distinct seasons: a wetter, cooler season with increased humidity during traditional fall and winter months, and a drier, hotter season we used to call spring and summer. Ohio will have more rainfall and more intense rainfall events, as well as more autumn precipitation.

Animal and plant extinctions

There will be shifts (and extinctions) in animal and plant species in Ohio, with unpredictable growing seasons and extreme temperature swings and expanding ranges of invasive, non-native plants and animals that are likely to outcompete native species. Native plants and iconic trees, like beech and buckeye, may no longer be able to survive in portions of their historic range.

Habitat for maple sugar trees, for example, will likely decline in most of the U.S. range by 2100, while the sap flow for them is likely to move north by 250 miles, where temperatures will be cooler.

Forest declines

Ohio’s forests, which make up 30 percent of our Ohio’s land area, may provide a slightly more comfortable buffer against rising temperatures than other states — if we can keep our trees healthy and growing. Growth declines in mature trees in recent decades may be related to rising temperatures.

What will the planet look like as temperatures rise?

If the oil and gas industry is allowed to continue to drill unregulated and unchecked, methane emissions from its operations will continue to heat up the planet and global temperatures will continue to rise faster and faster.

Methane traps heat in the atmosphere, which causes increased drought. Increased drought shrinks habitats and causes extinctions of animals, plants and insects. Higher temperatures also mean glaciers melt faster and oceans rise, while the seas heat up.

We’ll see continued coral reef die-offs, extinguishing organisms and fish that depend on them for food. We’ll also see the possible extinction of much of the fishing industry, along with large mammals like whales and polar bears.

We are now entering a new era called the Sixth Mass Extinction.

For people, along with drought and animal and plant extinctions come food instability and political strife. We’ll also see an increase in global conflicts, and continued exoduses of war and climate refugees seeking food and safety in countries considered environmentally and politically safer.

The United Nations recently reported that the world has a 50/50 chance of meeting the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold within five years. This is bad news for the planet because global warming appears to be heating up the planet faster than we are moving toward net zero with sustainable energy sources.

Although we may not want to face it, continued rising temperatures now, over the next 30 years and by the next century will significantly affect the world in ways it’s devastating now to imagine. The oil and gas industry and its methane emissions accelerate global rising temperatures. Big Oil methane emissions and leaks from fracking in Ohio and throughout the world, threaten life as we know it today. Climate change is real and climate change is here.

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