According to the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, House Bill (H.B.) 278, passed in 2004, became the Ohio law which recognizes that “the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division has the sole and exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, locating and spacing of oil and gas wells. Additionally, H.B. 278 declares that Ohio’s oil and gas law and the rules adopted under it constitute a comprehensive plan with respect to all aspects of the siting, drilling and operations of oil and gas wells. The result is the effective elimination of duplicative regulations that have disrupted orderly oil and gas development.” 

According to Kari Matsko, a leader of the People’s Oil and Gas Collaborative – Ohio, that same law essentially “erased Ohio’s ability to regulate from a local level, drilling anywhere in the state.” Matsko went on to explain that while other industries must abide by local community zoning regulations, House Bill 278 makes the oil and gas industry exempt from such regulations. So just how big of an impact does the oil and gas industry have in our local community? Matsko continues, “Oil and gas wells have been in Ohio since the 1800s. Today, Ohio is fourth in the nation, behind Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania in the number of oil and gas wells, with over 275,000 wells.”

So if drilling has been in the state since the 1800s, why the current concern — and just what is “fracking”, anyway? Wikipedia defines the current drilling method as “horizontal slickwater fracking,” a process that was first used in Texas in 1998. So as a relatively recent technology used in Ohio, what are the risks? The Portage County Health Department defines fracking as “a commonly accepted term for hydro-fracturing, a process where water, sand and chemicals are injected into the earth at high pressure.” The aim of hydro-fracturing is to fracture rock formations deep underground in the hopes of liberating natural gas that would be otherwise inaccessible, and to bring it to the surface for processing.

While a horizontal well in a shale formation, such as is common in Portage County, can use between 1.9 million to 5 million gallons of fluid to “liberate” hydrocarbons like oil and gas, the EPA estimates that only 15 to 80% of that fluid is actually recovered. Although the fluid used in fracking is mostly water, some acids, emulsifiers and other chemicals are added to make the water thicker and more effective at fracturing the rock. These additives include guar gum (thickening agent), boron (antimicrobial, used as insecticide), zirconium, titanium, iron and polyacrylamide(may contain trace amounts of unpolymerized acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin). Aside from such additives, the process of fracking also releases naturally occurring salts, metals, radioactive elements like barium and strontium and carcinogens like benzene.

And what happens to the fluid that isn’t recovered? It follows the path of least resistance, ending up in the soil, water supply and air. Although the state of Ohio has determined fracking to be an acceptable process, many local homeowners, landowners, farmers, and communities concerned with the health and well-being of their residents have an opposing view.

If the thought of taking on Oil & Gas lobbyist by yourself in order to protect the health and safety of your family has you ready to throwing up your hands and run screaming in the other direction, take heart. Kari Matsko continues, “In Ohio, we’ve made some progress, and that’s reason for hope. Citizens can work together to educate each other on the on the impacts of drilling in our communities. And building stronger communities, which is always a good idea, will ultimately give control back to local citizens.”

Are stronger communities the answer? In November 2012, voters in Broadview Heights, Ohio came together in record numbers to vote to adopt a Community Bill of Rights that would ban corporations from conducting new gas and oil drilling and related activities in their city. The law also asserts the fundamental rights of residents to clean air and water. Similar amendments have also been adopted by voters in other Ohio communities including Mansfield and Yellow Springs. Can communities in Portage County create similar results? Only time will tell. But we’ve got to take the first step — Education.

So here’s your opportunity to learn more and get involved. On Saturday, December 1, Concerned Citizens Ohio/Shalersville will host four speakers from four different localities to talk about their experiences with fracking and deep drilling and the actual impacts on their lives. Presenters include Kari Matsko of Lake County, who became an ‘accidental activist’ while researching the detrimental effects to her own health from drilling in her community in 2006. Over the years, she has become State of Ohio State Review Team member, the National Coordinator of an internet-based mapping of oil and gas development for MIT, and is a leader of the People’s Oil and Gas Collaborative – Ohio.

Also speaking on Saturday will be Maria Payans of Pennsylvania. Payans helped form a nonprofit group in response to the tragic impact of drilling on her neighbors in rural areas of PA. She has committed her life to speaking out about what she has personally experienced and witnessed in the lives of others. She currently works with an environmental attorney in an attempt to remediate some of the problematic outcomes of drilling and the health issues that result.

In addition, Tracy McGary of Columbiana County will present personal experiences with seismic testing and the effect on her own water well and other wells in her rural area. She is the owner of a small petting zoo whose life has been turned into chaos by the gas and oil industry in her county. Her story depicts the problems that go unremediated and the outcomes in the lives of people who live right next door to Portage County.

Lastly, Paul Feezel, from the nonprofit Concerned Citizens of Carroll County, will be speaking.  Feezel’s organization helps citizens deal with the impacts of fracking through water testing and information outreach. The group also works with local officials to help mitigate the more harmful consequences of drilling. Through his firsthand knowledge of living with the effects of drilling in his community, he presents a moderate, wise, practical approach to what we can expect to see happen in Portage County.

The free event will be held at the King of Glory Brethren in Christ Church, 1667 S.R. 303 in Streetsboro on Saturday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call Concerned Citizens Ohio/Shalersville at 330-472-8086.