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. 

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.