JEFFERSON – As the shale industry continues to industrialize once quiet, rural swaths of the northeast and midwest United States, demand for hydraulic fracturing wastewater dump sites — or injection wells — grows. Many local government officials said they feel the industry is exploding faster than it can be contained by federal regulation — and local control was “stripped” long ago.
As of July 6, there are 18 active injection wells spread across Ashtabula County, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the state’s fracking oversight entity. Last year, almost 1.1 million barrels of frackwater were dumped in those wells — that’s up 42 percent from 2013. Ashtabula County took in the eighth-highest amount of frackwater barrels in 2014.
Township officials and many other concerned community members from across the state who testified at a July 20 meeting in the Ashtabula County commissioners’ chambers — some came from as far as Athens County — agreed action needs to be taken now. That includes a moratorium backed by several heavily affected counties, including Ashtabula.
“Stop this runaway train,” said Roxanne Groff, Bern Township trustee, at the July 20 meeting. “Enforce the rules we have and make tougher ones. Stop poisoning our people.”
Another open public forum on the issue is set for 6-8:30 p.m. Monday in the auditorium of Jefferson Area High School, 207 W. Mulberry St., Jefferson.
Trumbull Township board of trustees chairman Ron Tamburrino, one of several organizers, said the meeting is for the benefit of township trustees — to better inform their constituents about fracking operations in their area; the region’s emergency responders, who need more industry transparency to safely mitigate potential disaster; and the public at-large, whose testimonies will need to reach the ears of the Legislature.
State Rep. Sean O’Brien, D-Bazetta, the ranking member of the state House Energy and Natural Resources Committee attended the July 20 meeting along with state Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, to internalize those testimonies and take them back to Columbus.
He said Ohio — including Ashtabula County — and its surrounding states are the “frontlines” of the industry, and there’s 20 times more underground energy than exploring entities previously thought, citing a recently released study on Utica Shale saturation in the area.
Though there are currently only 17 actively producing wells in the state, Ohio’s geology makes it a prime target for further expansion, he said. But while energy independence is a boon for the state, it could come at great cost.
“Once (fracking companies) make a mistake, it could be a catastrophic mistake — it could affect a lot of people,” O’Brien said.
In April of last year, Ben Lupo, owner of a Youngstown-based excavating company, was sentenced to more than two years in prison for dumping thousands of gallons of fracking brine and oil-based drilling mud into a storm drain that led into the Mahoning River.
At the July 20 meeting, Groff produced several striking photos from other injection wells or fracking-related disasters across the country — including an early April incident in Vienna Township, in which a 2,000-gallon leak of unknown chemicals raised public alarm about the safety of well water within a half-mile around the spill site.
The chemicals that might have contaminated the township wells are still unknown to trustee Phil Pegg — frackwater chemicals are under corporate patent and remain sealed in the state capital.
“When a neighbor calls me up, crying, ‘Is my water safe to drink?’ What can I tell them? Absolutely nothing,” Pegg told the Star Beacon Thursday.
Geographically, Ohio is in a precarious position next to Pennsylvania, in which injection wells are barred by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, because of the region’s geological features.
In 2014, almost three-quarters of those 1.1 million barrels of frackwater came from out of state — and there isn’t a single producing well in Ashtabula County, said Commissioner Dan Claypool.
He told the Star Beacon earlier this month he worries Ashtabula County is going to become a “wasteland.”
“Probably the most important thing we can do is educate the public,” he said Tuesday. “I thought it was really significant that people drove from as far as Athens (County). That, in itself, says a lot — that there are people that are concerned about the amount of waste their county and our county are taking in.
“They could build a well in your next door neighbor’s lot. … I know they keep saying ‘That can’t happen,’ but it is happening all across the United States.”
The public testimony gathered at the July 20 meeting and Monday’s Jefferson meeting will help strengthen the first draft of a state House bill that seeks to put regulatory control back in township and county officials’ hands, Patterson and O’Brien said.
“We need to make sure that we have good, protective laws that will protect our constituents, our environment,” O’Brien said. “When they come in, they know what the rules are and they follow them.
“If we can help the company by showing them (how to safely operate), I think it benefits everybody.”
Representatives from Trumbull, Portage and Athens counties, ODNR, the state Farm Bureau, Farmers Union and several branches of Ashtabula County government have been invited to attend and speak at the Monday meeting.
This article was written by Justin Dennis from Star Beacon, Ashtabula, Ohio and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.