Fracking Athens (College Project)

From August 2014 to December 2014 I worked on a months long project to identify all the different dynamics of the fracking industry in Southeast, Ohio. I talked to hundreds of community members in and around Athens County from lawyers to activists to homeowners to students about their concerns, fears, and human rights. Through my exploration of the many complexities of this environmental issue, I hope to have raised some awareness about hydraulic fracturing in Ohio. 

Approval for Meigs County Barge Dock Still Pending

Local activists continue to hold their breath as a decision still pends to allow a barge dock for fracking waste to be built in their area.

By Cassie Kelly -- GreenHunter has proposed to construct a bargedock at 53549 Great Bend Road Portland, Meigs County, Ohio.

By Cassie Kelly -- GreenHunter has proposed to construct a bargedock at 53549 Great Bend Road Portland, Meigs County, Ohio.

In October 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard announced plans that would allow for the shipment of frack waste down the Ohio River by barges. In an effort to beat the competition, GreenHunter Water LLC, a Texas-based corporation dealing in frack waste, sent a proposal to The Army Corps. of Engineers earlier this year for permission to build a barge dock and to operate two barges along the Ohio River in Meigs County, one county over from Athens. Between GreenHunter’s two barges, about 42 million gallons can be hauled at once along the river.

Environmental groups, such as the Athens County Fracking Action Network, rounded up comments for both the Coast Guard and the Army Corps. of Engineers in hopes to stop both proposed ideas. ACFAN members worry that carrying millions of gallons of frack waste along the river puts the water supply at risk.

The Ohio River borders six states:  Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. 

The Ohio River borders six states:  Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. 

“We should be able to say what we want in this community,” Said Andrea Reik, local ACFAN member. “The river is 981 miles long. It’s a site for water, recreation, shipping, fishing… it needs to be protected. So, when you start talking about barging on the river, it raises concerns.”

According to the Ohio River Foundation, over 25 million people rely on the Ohio River for fresh water across the nation. It is estimated that three million of those who rely on the river reside in Ohio.

Several fracking related incidents have threatened the water supply in recent years. In June 2014, an explosion at a drilling site in Monroe County lead to the evacuation of 25 families. It was later found that the explosion, causing about 70 thousand fish to die, contaminated tributaries of the Ohio River.

“Can you imagine if a situation like that [Munroe County] happened here?” Reik said.

Greg Gibson, owner Gibson Ridge Farm and resident of Meigs County, said he is concerned about more than just the water in his area.

“The roads and bridges will all be destroyed by the trucks,” Gibson said. “And it’s up to the [fracking] companies whether they want to fix them or not.” 

There is also major concern about the destruction of the habitat, not only at the site, but along the entire river. The proposal by GreenHunter lists several endangered mussel species that could potentially be impacted by the construction of the dock. But, the proposal does state that GreenHunter would work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as required by law. 

In their comments to the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers, residents stated that they wanted not only more time to raise public awareness, but to have an Environmental Impact Assessment conducted before allowing the dock to be built and waste to be shipped along the river.

“I feel like we are under siege by water, by truckers, by everything,” said Reik. “This is why it’s important to educate and get the word out.” 

Barging frack waste has yet to be approved by the Coast Guard, and the proposal by GreenHunter is still pending. 

 

Gov. Kasich Hopes to Tax Drilling Corporations in Ohio

Many anti-fracking activist groups have organized in the past few years all around the state of Ohio. Entire cities, such as Athens, have formed a bill of rights to ban the use of injection wells within their city limits. But, there is a limit to what these bans can do.

This infographic shows how many wells were in each county of Ohio in 2012, still the early stages of the fracking industry. The data was taken from the 2012 Ohio Oil and Gas Summary, a more recent summary has not yet been made available.  Depicted in the graphic are 538 wells, however, there are now over 1100 wells drilled in Ohio according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources activity records for drilling. Despite having more recent data, there is still something to learn from this information.

Most importantly, the wells that are depicted in the graphic are there to stay because they already have permits granted by the state. The bans put into place by the cities only restrict new wells from being drilled, meaning there is little effect on current fracking operations in their city limits.

According to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, over 160 communities nation-wide have enacted bans on fracking. Other than Athens, Ohio has four communities who have done this: Oberlin, Yellow Springs, Mansfield and Broadview Heights.

Not depicted in the map below, are almost 90 wells in Broadview Heights, which has a citywide radius of 13 miles. The city put their bill of rights into place in 2012 and has successfully fended off any new drilling up until now. They are currently facing two lawsuits from two different fracking corporations who say their ban is unconstitutional; that they have the rights to the oil underneath their town. No ruling has been made on either case.  

This proves that even putting a ban in place may not completely deter future fracking operations. As for what this might mean for the health and safety of towns like Broadview Heights, the research is up in the air. There are possible threats to drinking water and air quality.

But, as the threat of things like earthquakes and chemical leaks loom over the state of Ohio, the drillers keep drilling. It will take statewide bans and federal law to completely undermine the industry. But many voters, democrats and republicans alike, are not to keen on this idea. The industry promises wealth and thousands of jobs.

Right now, Ohio is not one of the fortunate who are reaping the benefits of the drilling. Very few jobs are given to Ohioans and little money is being made because all profits go to the corporations. This is because there isn't any significant tax on corporations who are fracking in the state. In fact, Ohio has one of the lowest severance taxes in the U.S. for corporations. A severance tax allows the state to pay for any damage done to the infrastructure of roads and bridges near a well because oftentimes, the big tankers coming through destroy them. Because there is such little money going into maintaining structure, it has to be decided by the corporation if they want to spend their own funds to fix the existing roads and bridges. This is a huge problem for many smaller communities, such as Athens, who cannot afford to reinforce their bridges and road systems. 

However, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who supports the industry, hopes to change this. He has plans to implement a tax for the corporations so that Ohio can profit from the drilling and be able to maintain infrastructure. 

“They take our stuff and they go back and they cut their taxes, and they have our wealth in their state and they don’t pay for it,” said Kasich at the Columbus Metropolitan Club on Oct. 29. “We need to stop this.”

Kasich also has plans to call for tougher regulations on the wellheads, an issue which is believed to have negative affects on surrounding communities if not regulated properly. 

“There’s a proper way to have them operate in our state, both in what they pay and the way they’re regulated,” Kasich said. “If you don’t regulate this thing right, you’re going to lose people in the communities who say this is dangerous.”

As for now, no progress has been made on either front. This is a problem in the state house because they are against any regulations that are not beneficial to the industry leaving it to smaller/local courts to put bans and regulations in place. Dr. Bernhard Debatin, professor of science journalism at Ohio University said this is not logical because it would take entire counties to ban fracking to actually make a difference. 

"If you raise the level of nuisance in an area, they [fracking corps.] don’t want to come in. Why go into Athens, for example, when you can just go into Troy?" said Debatin. 

Still, regulation and taxation may the only way to get fracking corporations to think twice about drilling in these specific areas. 

One Last Effort Before Election Day

Election day is on November 4, this upcoming Tuesday and Issue 7 is about to face the moment of truth. Richard McGinn, Chairman of the Bill of Rights Committee in Athens had one last special guest to bring to Athens before people head to the polls. 

Environmental advocate, co-founder of Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods and Broadview Heights resident Tish O'Dell visted Athens to discuss the Bill of Rights that was passed in her town back in 2012. 

Broadview Heights' Bill of Rights outlines many of the same key points that Athens residents are proposing, all of which prohibit any new drilling within city limits. However, Broadview Heights has 90 extraction wells, wells that are used to access the oil, in a 13 mile radius. There are wells in homeowner's backyards and within a kickball's distance from playgorunds. Those wells haven't gone anywhere since the city passed their laws. In fact, two fracking corporations are trying to drill new wells and have sued the city for permission. The residents are concerned, especially since the judge will not allow the people to have any stake in the ruling. 

"We wanted to be defendants with the city, but we got denied," said O'Dell. 

O'Dell believes the only way to stop the corporations from taking over is to get the people to stand together. And she believes the same will hold true for Athens residents if their Bill of Rights passes on Nov. 4. 

"We've all been woken up to this, we need to wake up more people," O'Dell said. "It's the people who are going to make the changes, not the politicians."

McGinn has high hopes for Issue 7 this time around and said he hasn't seen or heard any opposition to it since they started drafting the Bill of Rights. 

Crissa Cummings shares how Feminism and Anti-Fracking Movements Intersect


Athens resident, Crissa Cummings, is an activist for the environment and equal rights. The Ohio University Women’s Center brought her to speak with students on Oct. 9 about being an all-inclusive activist group and how it can help any cause. Listen to the podcast to hear what she had to say.

Fracking becomes an issue in rural areas where the people are often poor, elderly, or disabled and cannot defend themselves against the companies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Athens County is on the higher end of the unemployment rate in Ohio at 6.1 percent and Meigs County is at 8.1 percent. As a result, Athens and Meigs counties are both being targeted by fracking companies, advertising things like jobs and other financial support in exchange for their land. But, the people are trying to resist it by forming groups like Appalachia Resist! and the Athens County Fracking Action Network.

 

Cummings has been a member of Appalachia Resist! for two years. She was arrested this past February and charged with trespassing along with the rest of the “Athens 8” who protested the K&H Partners injection well in Coolville, OH.

She is also supporter of women’s and LGBT rights. She is a board member and resident of the Susan B. Anthony Memorial Unrest Home (SuBAMAH), a women's intentional living and education community. Cummings has had many experiences where she did not feel welcome because of her beliefs. During her time at Antioch College she tried to join a marine life activist group that went out at sea on a boat to stop whalers. But, before she even had the chance to go on the boat she was warned not go alone or she would be sexually assaulted. She was also kicked out of an animal rights group when she shared her beliefs about equal rights.

But, Appalachia Resist! is different. They have an open acceptance policy, which means they do not discriminate based off of sexual orientation, race, class or gender. This all-inclusive policy makes it easy for everyone in the group to express their opinions. Cummings said it also makes it easier to designate responsibilities when planning upcoming actions and picking priorities that truly matter.

“In terms of places of intersection and where things can intensely matter with the environmental movement a lot of them are environmental justice issues," said Cummings. "So as soon as you start inviting in to your group poor people, people of color, you end up recognizing that there are these places of intersection that have major direct impacts on people’s lives.”

Cummings believes that if activists groups can work on being open and growing their numbers they can make a difference. She said, to stop environmental issues like global warming, a massive cultural change is necessary; it will take everyone.

An Exploration of Athens County Injection Wells

Today, I went on an exploration of fracking in Athens County and saw four injection well sites.

Ginsburg Injection Well site.

Ginsburg Injection Well site.

The first was the Ginsburg Well, located on Ladd Ridge Rd. in Alexander Twp. It was originally an oil well and after its exhaustion in the early 1980s, it was converted into an injection well, a place for corporations to unload and compress their wastewater (from fracking) deep into the ground. The Ginsburg Well is assumed to be 18-20 thousand feet deep and is connected to a "surface pool" which holds the wastewater and is filled atleast once a day. The well is constantly pumping the water from that pool into the ground. As of right now, the well is only seeing wastewater from Ohio. It receives quite a bit of opposition from local groups like Appalachia Resist! and Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) for its lack of safety measures and inability to pass basic maintenance testing. 

Hahn Paul Injection well site.

Hahn Paul Injection well site.

The second well on the exploration was the Hahn Paul Well, located on Route 329 in Guysville. It's significantly larger than the Ginsburg Well and has a storage tank for wastewaste. The wastewater from fracking is referred to as "brine." Brine is a salty, contaminated, radioactive substance, pretty far from what one might consider water. It is nearly impossible to filter it to the point that it can be drinkable again because of the salt. It is also extremely expensive and because it isn't required of fracking corporations to clean up the water they destroy, they don't. They also don't recycle it for new fracking operations because that is also costly. So, the solution is to pump it deep into the ground, removing it from the water cycle. An average frack job uses 5 million gallons of fresh water and local extraction wells take it straight from the Hocking River. The reason there aren't any regulations against using fresh water is due to a loop hole in the system which exempts oil and gas companies from 17 environmental laws. In fact, the restrictions are so minimal that they can easily ignore them and put human populations at risk of contamination. Contamination happens a lot of ways. Surface contamination happens when a storm hits and overflows the surface pools, causing the contaminated wastewater to trickle into the water supply. Also, when trucks transporting the wastewater get in accidents they pose danger on surrounding water supply. Many accidents also happen on injection well sites with spills. But the real question is, where does the wastewater migrate to once pumped thousands of feet below ground? The idea is that the clay layers in the ground prevent the wastewater from entering the water supply, but that is only a theory.

On a side note, earthquakes are becoming more and more common, especially in areas where fracking is taking place. One theory is that the lubricating chemicals that corporations are using to extract the oil are causing the earth to shift. 

The third injection well on the exploration was the Atha well, located in Coolville, OH. It has only been in operation as an injection site for a year. It smelled like bathroom cleaning chemicals and decay as a truck unloaded its waste into the well. Half a dozen large storage tanks sit adjacent to it. Dorothy Rader and her husband live three miles from this site and are terrified of what may happen in the future.

Dorothy Rader and her husband outside of the Atha Injection Well site. 

Dorothy Rader and her husband outside of the Atha Injection Well site. 

"They see money, they see dollar signs, and we see danger,” Mrs. Rader said. She has been fighting for the health and safety of Coolville for many years, beginning with the hindrance of a medical waste incinerator back in the early 1990s. For four years Rader and the Concerned Citizens of the Coolville Area (CCCA) fought in court against the incinerator and ended up winning. But, Rader now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of all of the opposition she faced, a lot of which was from her neighbors. "We had threats, we had intimidation, we had it all," she said. Now, they are facing a new kind of monster, fracking.

Truck unloading brine into the injection well. 

Truck unloading brine into the injection well. 

Coolville is one of the poorest areas of Athens County and many of the people are elderly and disabled, making it an easy target for fracking corporations to take over.  “We’re just those little, expendable people,” Rader said with tears in her eyes. Her once quiet street is now teeming with trucks, she once saw 17 in one day. Although it is unknown if the waste is from outside of Ohio, Rader says she frequently sees trucks with out-of-state license plates, some of which are from as far away as Texas. Rader does receive a small check once a month of around $100 but it is little compensation for the stress she has dealt with. “I blame the state of Ohio and the Federal government,” she said. 

K&H Partners LLC. injection well. 

K&H Partners LLC. injection well. 

The final well on the tour was the K&H Partners LLC. injection well, the largest in Athens County and soon to be largest in Ohio. The land it sits on was originally sold to K&H for "hunting ground" but as you can see in the picture, that was a lie. There are aproximately 10 large tanks and two injection sites, with plans to build more infrastructure in the near future. These wells only go about 4000 feet deep, a fairly short distance compared to the others. About fifty trucks a day unload here day and night from all across the country. This facility has dual pipe casings and engineering controls which are suspposed to monitor the pipes for any leaks by detecting pressure changes. But, dozens of signs and the not-so-friendly security patrol made us aware we weren't welcome at the site.  

Through my exploration of fracking in Athens I hope to educate people on the effects it has on the health and safety of communities. Return frequently or follow my blog for more updates as I continue to research this controversy from all sides. 

All photos by Cassie Kelly.

 

The Bill of Rights Committee on Issue 7

Mr. Richard McGinn from the Bill of Rights Committee in Athens has helped formulate Issue 7, a bill that, if passed, will prevent fracking corporations from coming into town. McGinn said they started back in september 2012 with their first proposal, which was going to cover the entirity of Athens County. But, they set their sites too high and were shot down. They didn't give up there though. They drafted a new proposal and presented it at an Athens City Council meeting, with a plead: "This is our last chance." 

What McGinn meant by last chance was that companies would be coming in to town to buy up the land and begin fracking, exposing Athens' water supply and crops to chemical contamination. With a whopping 890 signatures for petition, only 450 were needed, council members listened. Now, the bill has a shot on election day of being passed and McGinn and the rest of the Bill of Rights Committee is urging people to vote and to vote yes on Issue 7. 

"It's hard to get people to understand what is wrong with fracking. They aren't just driling a hole in the ground," said McGinn. 

McGinn is hopeful that the bill will pass so the city has protection. But, the bill will not completely deflect interested frackers. According to McGinn, they can sue if they want rights to the land. But, he is confident that if anything of that nature were to happen that the city would stand with the people against fracking. 

How Issue 7 is Returning Rights to the People

I have reached out to the community about my project and found a wealth of knowledge. Athens is an extremely educated town, they know their rights, they know what is happening to them and they are taking action to try and stop it. Issue 7, to be voted for or against on November 4, is an issue that will protect the residents of Athens' rights against fracking within city limits.

If passed, Issue 7 will prohibit:

  • Corporations from extracting shale gas and oil.  
  • The storage of any waste from oil and gas extraction. 
  • Site infrastructure supporting extraction.
  • The procurement of water for use of extraction.  
  • Corporations from intending to take part in any of these activities; they could not avail themselves of certain legal rights and powers which would enable them to nullify the rights secured by this ordinance. 
  • Permits issued to allow corporations to engage in prohibited activities. 

So far, 160 communities across the US, including Mansfield, Oberlin, Broadview Heights and Yellow Springs Ohio, have passed a Bill of Rights similar to this one to protect the environment from industrial pollution. 

Issue 7 would only protect land within city limits, including state-owned properties and Ohio University properties. It would not stop corportations from extracting from existing wells, it will specifically ban new oil and gas wells and drilling with city water, undisclosed chemicals, as well as ban the disposal of fracking waste in Class II Injection wells inside the city.