Columbus doesn’t care, that’s the widespread impression among Ohio counties dealing with the repercussions of the horizontal hydraulic fracturing industry.
Concerns have been growing among activists and elected officials about massive amounts of oil-and-gas fracking waste being injected into Ohio ground with significant environmental risk, little economic benefit, and no local control.
Last week, representatives from a variety of counties across Ohio impacted by oil-and-gas waste injection wells met to discuss what can be done, with some suggesting a moratorium and changes to state law.
The summit took place at a Trumbull County Commissioners meeting in Warren, Ohio.
Recent Ohio court rulings, including a pivotal Ohio Supreme Court decision earlier this year, have backed up the state of Ohio and drilling industry’s contention that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has primacy over oil and gas regulation (including deep-shale injection wells), basically stating, “what the state allows, local government can’t prohibit.”
That was part of the impetus for the meeting between various county officials, with attendees from Trumbull, Ashtabula, Mahoning, Portage and Athens counties going to the summit.
“Noise, traffic, roads, water contamination are all threats. Columbus doesn’t seem to care,” said Dominic Marchese, a Johnston Township trustee from Trumbull County, according to meeting notes.
An official from Trumbull County suggested enlisting the help of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, the Ohio Trustees Association, and the Ohio County Engineer’s Association.
The CCA in the past has attempted to lobby legislators to change Ohio law so that if a public body requests a public hearing for the permitting of an injection well, the ODNR will be required to hold one. Currently it is not, and despite hundreds of letters from concerned citizens and requests from local officials, the vast majority of injection well permits are put through by the agency while it refuses to meet in an open forum with the public.
Township trustees from Trumbull County called for more public awareness and better monitoring of potential radioactivity, while others called the loss of local control “disastrous.”
Some complained about injection wells close in proximity to grade schools, while there was also talk about the viability of lobbying legislators to change state law.
Officials shared stories about spills and damage to local roads, while others talked about the difficulty in obtaining useful information from the ODNR.
An attorney at the meeting spoke of the recent Ohio Supreme Court decision in the Munroe Falls case where local zoning regulation of fracking activity was shot down. He said that road agreements should be mandatory to protect from damage or to hold companies accountable when damage occurs.
He also suggested limiting hours of operation. He called these “modest proposals” that should be presented to the meeting of the commissioners association in Columbus later this year. The CCA would then look to the state Legislature.
Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason advocated for finding a way to re-establish local control.
“The public needs input in the county where the well goes,” the meeting notes quoted him. “We are talking about fairness. Compare it to the way we legislate control of the sale of alcohol. That is a process that involves an application, public hearings, and so forth. If that industry is required to do that, this industry should. We need to emphasize across-the-board fairness.”
Eliason reportedly said that monitoring should be a cost borne by the oil and gas companies with no exceptions.
“How can you better lobby for change,” Eliason challenged. “Citizens need fairness. We need to keep calling and writing letters to editors, legislators, and senators. It is about fairness and equity. We need a large campaign with many voices contacting our representatives over and over.”
David DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He can be found on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.