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Who Will Protect Our Public Lands?

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On February 26, Ohio proved once again that nothing in the state is sacred when it comes to making money from fracking. In addition to some Department of Transportation parcels, the 5-member Oil and Gas Land Management Commission (OGLMC) approved bids to frack Salt Fork State Park in Guernsey County, Valley Run in Carroll County, and Zepernick Wildlife area in Columbiana County. In some cases, the accepted bids were considerably “below market value” as noted by commissioner Warnock who voted against a bid of $500 per acre by EOG Resources, Inc. for a DOT parcel. This would approximately be one-tenth the average going rate of $5000 per acre.

Recently, additional state lands have been opened by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for oil and gas extraction bids. These include the 366-acre Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in Belmont county and the 85-acre Keen Wildlife area in Harrison County. Both areas are used for hunting, fishing, and recreational activities by local residents.

Against the wishes of Ohio’s citizens, Ohio’s public lands have become a cash cow for Ohio’s politicians seeking to increase the state’s coffers. The OGLMC has ignored thousands of citizens' comments, hundreds of scientific studies, and expert witness testimonies warning them of the health and environmental dangers of fracking.

Those of us who live in fracked regions of the state are aware of the impacts our state lands and the surrounding communities will experience as fracking ramps up around these rural recreational sites. Ohio citizens need to demand protections for their state lands from well pads, compressor stations, pipelines, water withdraws, and injection wells.

According to Ohio Revised Code 1521.16, any facility withdrawing over 100,000 gallons per day of surface water or groundwater must register with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Currently there are over 400 fracking facilities registered with the state. Typically, Marcellus and Utica wells require an average of 5 million gallons of water to frack a well.

A recent study from Ohio Northern University shows that water withdraws from small streams negatively affect aquatic habitats. It was noted by one of the study’s authors, Dr. Christopher Spiese, how “difficult it was to find water source locations for well pad permits.” How will water withdrawals affect lakes and streams in places like Salt Fork State Park?

Along with monitoring water usage, ODNR needs to create, enforce, and make publicly available a system for water quantity and quality monitoring. Since fracking has been excluded from the Safe Drinking Water Act as per the passage of the Halliburton Loophole in 2005, states are responsible for regulating more than 1100 chemicals used in fracking.

The only entity in Ohio that oversees oil and gas extraction is the ODNR. Right now, Ohio regulations fail to protect human health and the environment. In 2022, several community groups in SE Ohio petitioned the EPA to revoke ODNR primacy over Class II radioactive organic and inorganic waste injection wells “due to the longstanding and systemic failures.”

The current water quality parameters used by the Oil and Gas Division of ODNR to test rural water wells, and the criteria used by the Ohio EPA to test inland lakes, do not address any of the hundreds of aromatic and aliphatic organic chemicals used in the fracking process, including toxic forever compounds (PFAS). Adequate testing of the many organic compounds used will require a minimum of Tier 3 testing conducted by certified labs.

Methane contamination of drinking water wells has been a common complaint among people living in gas drilling areas across the country.” In some cases, methane from fracking operations migrates and causes explosions like the one experienced in Bainbridge Township in Geauga, Ohio in 2007. According to a report from ODNR, inadequate cementing of the production casing can allow natural gas to migrate along the annulus of the well pipe into aquifers.

In addition to explosions, methane is water soluble and has been found as a contaminant in drinking water wells. “In aquifers overlying the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York, systematic evidence for methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale-gas extraction has been documented.”

Additionally, well pads, utility roads, pipelines, machinery, and especially the clear cutting of forests can physically break up the habitat that wildlife needs for survival. Acres of forest land are being clear-cut to make room for drilling sites. Since 2005, fracking has affected over 360,000 acres of land with over 80,000 fracking wells in 17 states. Once a well pad is constructed, that acreage remains an industrial site as wells can have a lifetime of 20 to 40 years. These fracking sites will mar the natural beauty of our parks for decades.

Commissioner Ryan Richardson was quick to point out that the well pads would not be on park land, but there is no magic barrier that keeps chemical spills, produced water spills, air emissions, noise, and light from affecting the parks adjacent to drilling sites.

If the ODNR and Ohio’s politicians insist on forcing this destructive and dangerous process into our rural wildlife areas and parks, they should at the very least spend some of those millions of dollars to create a monitoring program for air and water emissions. It is the ODNR’s responsibility to ensure that our streams, lakes, and land are not permanently damaged and rendered useless after the rush to frack diminishes.

On March 27, a new development concerning the only national forest in Ohio was called to my attention. The Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comments for a “draft supplemental environmental assessment evaluating possible impacts from potential oil and gas leasing of 40,000 acres within Wayne National Forest in southeastern Ohio.”

You can attend online information sessions on April 8th and 9th. Please send comments to the BLM before May 6th.

FaCT

A non-profit dedicated to highlighting the impact of climate change and other environmental issues in the Ohio region and beyond.

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