Fracking protesters converge upon ODNR meeting in Athens

Athens County residents rally together outside the Athens office of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to protest the hydraulic fracturing that could be coming to the area. The ODNR held an open house on the subject on Nov. 28. (Eli Hiller | For The Post)

Those both for and against hydraulic fracturing in Athens County intersected at a crossroads Wednesday night.

The Athens County Fracking Action Network and Appalachia Resist put on an anti-fracking rally right outside of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ open house on how they are going to safely perform “fracking.”

“Poison is being injected into our land,” said Drake Chamberlin, an Amesville resident referencing the injection of drilling waste, or brine, into local wells. “The statements being made by the ODNR concerning the safety of these wells is completely unscientific and doesn’t jive with experience at all.”

Despite lacking public approval of injecting waste in Athens County, the state is going in and pushing the practice through regardless, Chamberlin said.    
Dave Claus, the deputy chief of ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, said he does not see what all of the fuss is about.

“I’ve done hydraulic fracturing itself, over 700 wells, and never had an issue with contamination of drinking water,” Claus said. “I’ve drilled over 700 wells and never had any issues. I’ve actually constructed some of the injection wells that they are concerned about here and not had any issues. From my standpoint, I don’t see it as a problem.”

While some are concerned about potential for radioactive brine, Steve Helmer of the Ohio Department of Health said radioactive material occurs naturally, especially when you get deep enough below the earth to reach the shale.

“Most of the waste will go to deep well injections, and that is pretty much the best place for it,” Helmer said.

However, Chamberlin said the waste injected into the wells is illegal in Pennsylvania, where the federal government controls the process. In Ohio, the state controls the practice.

“They’re claiming that the geology is different, so it is okay,” Chamberlin said. “The geology isn’t very different at all. Once the water is poisoned, there is no way to unpoison it.”

Chamberlin said ODNR has created an “incredible propaganda campaign” claiming the waste is safe.

“This stuff is dangerous no matter what,” Chamberlin said. “It’s known that (the injections) won’t work, but they are doing it anyways. For our generation and future generations, we are going to have this legacy of poisoned water.”

Chamberlin said he hopes rallies such as this one increase awareness until there is public outcry and pressure is put on these state agencies to cease hydraulic fracturing and fracking waste injections.

“We are accomplishing a number of things,” said Grace Hall, an Athens resident. “We’re sending a clear message to ODNR and the oil and gas industry. We really want to get the community engaged with the groups that have formed about this issue.”

ODNR should not be the department regulating hydraulic fracturing because the tax revenues on drilling and injection create an inherent conflict of interest, Hall said.

“It’s really hard to say that there is no conflict of interest when the people coming in who are saying, ‘Hey, this isn’t safe; let’s shut it down,’ are the same people who are making money because it is still open,” Hall said.

Anti-fracking groups have called for a public hearing with ODNR about hydraulic fracturing and waste injection in Athens County, but Wednesday’s event was an open house.

One of the reasons ODNR didn’t want to have a public hearing is because everything that would be said goes on the record, which could potentially be used to hold ODNR accountable, Hall said.

“It certainly isn’t something that you would do if you had nothing to hide or nothing to fear,” Hall said. “I think they are sweating it; they are doing everything they can to keep everyone in the dark about what’s really going on.”

Heidi Hetzel-Evans, media relations manager for ODNR, believes the open house was chosen because it fits the department’s mission: to educate people about fracking. ODNR brought in experts from around Ohio to talk with citizens to do that, she said.

“We are here because we care about what the community thinks and feels,” Hetzel-Evans said. “We want to educate them about the process and how it works. We understand that as technology changes, people want to make sure that their water is safe.”

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