Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Staff Writer
Tuesday, 09 July 2013 09:28
Bowling Green has become a battleground in the conflict over fracking.
|Rebecca Heimlich, campaign manager for API, and Carlo LoParo with Strategic Public Partners at the Sentinel-Tribune during an interview. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is used to extract oil trapped inside shale deep in the ground.
The increased use of the technology has been behind the boom in natural gas and is a major reason that the United States is starting to tip the balance in energy independence, supporters say.
The technology, opponents say, is behind an epidemic of health and environmental problem in areas where the exploration is taking place.
Those fears are behind a petition drive now underway to get the city of Bowling Green to ban fracking in its city limits. The petition calls for voters to weigh in on an amendment to the city's charter on the November ballot. The referendum would enact a "citizens bill of rights."
"A charter amendment is needed because the ability of Ohio citizens to protect their own citizens has been stripped away," said Lisa Kochheiser, of the FreshWater Accountability Project which is behind the Bowling Green petition drive.
Leslie Harper, also of the FreshWater Accountability Project reiterated, local government's ability to control developments through zoning "has been taken away from us."
A charter amendment would allow "citizens to enact local protections for their health for their families' health and their property and their property values and our environment," Kochheiser said. "Yes we have the right to do that. ... It is one of the only ways that Ohio citizens have of protecting themselves from the onslaught of the oil and gas industry."
Representatives of the Ohio Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute, take a different stance.
The problem with the charter amendment, said Rebecca Heimlich, the campaign manager for Ohio Petroleum Council's efforts to defeat referendum drives, is that it gives people the impression that local laws can trump the state and federal legislation.
The charter amendment, she contended "would not affect fracking." But, she added, "there will be unintended consequences which would impact the greater business community."
"We have to word it so it doesn't seem to be solely targeting fracking," Kochheiser said. "Our concern is not targeting existing companies. ... This is mainly to protect you from the possibilities of fracking."
And those possibilities, she and Harper asserted, are not good.
"Allowing fracking around Bowling Green would put every person at risk," Kochheiser said.
|Lisa Kochheiser of Fresh Water Accountability Project.
Those concerns are wide-ranging including short- and long-term health problems.
And the difficulty of treating those problems is compounded by Ohio law that deems the chemicals used in fracking are proprietary information, and need not be revealed by companies. "The oil and gas industry is exempt from the Ohio Emergency Planning and Community Right to know act," Kochheiser said.
Carlo LoParo, of Strategic Public Partners a firm working with the oil and gas industry, responded that Senate Bill 315 approved in 2012 does provide provisions for revealing the chemicals that make up small percentage of the brine.
A summary provided on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website states: "The bill requires chemical disclosure during all aspects of the initial drilling process and during hydraulic fracturing, while adhering to existing federal and state trade secret/proprietary laws. However, ODNR can upon request obtain proprietary chemical formulas to conduct an investigation or in response to a spill. Typically, proprietary chemical formulas comprise less than 0.01 percent of the total fluid used to hydraulically fracture a well."
The site directs the public to fracfocus.org to find the chemical makeup of specific wells. (Clicking the link on the ODNR site did not work, but going directly to site did.)
The companies backing the growth of the gas drilling say the economic benefits of the industry spread throughout the state whether there's drilling in an area or not. Heimlich said there were 38,000 people now employed in the oil and gas industry in Ohio. As drilling expands from 300 to 400 drills currently to 2,250 by the end of 2015 those jobs will increase.
And those wells will be subject to the "most stringent well construction standards in the country."
That growth is expected to mostly come on the eastern side of the state, Heimlich said.
Kochheiser, however, said agents of gas companies are already trolling through Wood County, getting landowners to transfer mineral rights to them in anticipation of an expansion of drilling.
That heightens fracking opponents concerns for the locality's water supply. They fear the migration of the chemical brine used to flush the oil from rock pores.
They also fear the use of a high volume of water will deplete the area's aquifer.
Through the process, Kochheiser said, "huge amounts of fresh water are turned into an overwhelming waste stream which there's no way to dispose of. It's too contaminated to make safe through treatment."
LoParo said that the companies try to recycle as much brine as possible.
Much of the brine is injected back down into the ground.
Heimlich said that the aquifers are well protected by barriers of steel and cement from any pollution, with the fracturing happening at a depth of 6,000 feet below the surface, well below the groundwater reservoirs.
A recent study done of 141 wells in the vicinity of fracking operations by Duke University and published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that there was a danger of flammable chemicals leaking into groundwater.
LoParo called it a "deeply flawed study," citing an article posted on energyindepth.org that the study was not properly controlled and did not prove the methane came from the gas wells.
Hydraulic fracturing has been going on since the 1950s, Heimlich said, and she contends no contamination has been proven.
Kochheiser and other opponents such as filmmaker Josh Fox in his documentary "Gasland" describe people who can set water from their faucets on fire because it has so much methane in it.
Heimlich and others in the industry contend methane naturally occurs in some groundwater, and the flaming faucets are not the result of drilling.
Just as Fox fires another salvo with Monday's debut of "Gasland 2" on HBO contending the oil and gas industry has perverted governmental processes, the petition drive in Bowling Green is nearing its last stages.
Kochheiser said the petition drive will be wrapped up later this week. The campaign has until early August to have the signatures certified so the charter amendment can appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.