'Don't Frack' Rally Urges Ban on Injection Wells
WARREN, Ohio -- In what was a blend of a folk festival and peaceful demonstration, about 200 people gathered on Courthouse Square Monday to voice their opposition to Ohio's practice of using injection wells to store contaminated waste from drilling sites.
A host of speakers and musicians took to the stage at the "Don't Frack Ohio 2" rally, all of them expressing their concerns that injection wells -- and the oil and gas industry's use of hydraulic fracturing during the well completion stage -- stand to contaminate the environment for generations to come.
"It's got to be stopped," said Mac Sawyer, a former environmental coordinator for several oil and gas companies who lives in Altoona, Pa. "I don't mean a moratorium. I mean ban it, shut it down and criminalize it."
Sawyer said at one time he was an ardent supporter of the industry, but no more. "I've seen a lot of cover-ups -- they used to ask me to it -- but after awhile, you have to look in the mirror and say this stuff isn't right."
He said on many occasions, he transported drilling waste that was so radioactive that it started to burn holes in the sides of tanker trucks. "This is the stuff they wanted to put in the ground here. They've destroyed my state. Don't let them do it here."
Organizers of the rally held a similar 'Don't Frack' event last year in Columbus. 'Don't Frack 2" was held in Warren, they said, because of the concentration of injection wells permitted in this region and increased interest in oil and gas exploration in eastern Ohio's Utica shale.
"I am outraged," declared Gwen Fischer, co-founder of Concerned Citizens of Ohio and a resident of Portage County. She told the crowd that last year, more than 98.8 million gallons of toxic waste was injected into Portage County's 18 different injection wells. "Ninety-eight million gallons of water. If it were clean water, would provide the drinking water for a town of 3,300 people for a year."
Billions of gallons of toxic waste has been disposed in Ohio via injection wells, she continued. To demonstrate this, associates unfurled a large banner depicting a large number -- 7,812,815,182 -- the number of gallons disposed of thus far through injection wells in the state.
Fischer and others in her group petitioned the Ohio Department of Natural Resources after the agency approved new permits for injection wells in Portage County. But, she said ODNR did little to address the wells during an informational meeting that was granted after about nine months of requests.
"I am outraged that eight new wells were permitted in our county," she said, and urged the audience to call Gov. John Kasich every Monday until a ban on injection wells is passed.
Activists say the use of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has contaminated aquifers and poses a serious threat to the environment. The process includes water, sand and a smattering of chemicals injected into a well at high pressure to crack open fissures in tightly packed shale rock that hold pockets of natural gas.
The wastewater generated from oil and gas exploration, however, is contaminated, and can only be disposed of through recycling, or Ohio's approved method of using injection wells to store the contaminated fluid.
Ohio is home to about 170 injection wells, and one well -- D&L Energy's Northstar No. 1 -- became the subject of scrutiny last year when ODNR tied its operation to a rash of earthquakes that shook the Mahoning Valley in 2011 and early 2012.
"Not only is the fight you're fighting absolutely essential to the communities of Ohio, it's also a fight that's essential to the future of this planet," declared Bill McKibben, author, activist and founder of 350.org, an international environmental group dedicated to addressing global warming. "It's a fight in which you have many, many allies."
McKibben said that the fossil fuel industry has emerged as the "richest industry in the history of this planet," at the expense of the earth's resources.
But as McKibben spoke, about 30 or so industry supporters standing on sidewalks around the square blew loud air horns in an effort to drown out his address. An event hosted by industry supporters, including labor unions and the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, was held simultaneously to counter the fracking opponents (READ STORY).
"The thing is, that much as people would like to, there's no real way to drown out the science," McKibben said. "There's no horn or sound loud enough to blot out what we're doing to the planet."
Spectators and vendors started to trickle in around 11:30, and the crowd grew to about 200 or so by 2 p.m.
Douglas Shields, a former president of Pittsburgh City Council, attended the rally because he said supports measures such as the Community Bill of Rights, an initiative underway in Youngstown that is similar to what he spearheaded in his city.
"I came here to support the efforts in Ohio. The people here that are demanding that their government pay attention to them, as opposed to leaving them off the table," Shields said.
Shields successfully mentored through Pittsburgh City Council in 2010 a measure that banned hydraulic fracturing within city limits. He noted that one reason most of colleagues voted for the ban was because they realized little due diligence was being conducted at the state level.
"There were no health-risk assessments done, and we the people were given no information by our institutions of government,. That's happened in Ohio as well," Shields says. "People say you've got a gas drilling problem, but right now you've got a democracy problem."
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