Local ‘fracking’ opponents testify before congressmen

Although concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing have been well-received by city and county officials, negative testimony given to several congressmen has seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

Local “fracking” opponents Michele Papai, Christine Hughes and Nathan Johnson were asked to testify before three congressmen on the Subcommittee for Energy and Mineral Resources about their concerns regarding the controversial drilling practice.

Papai, who is an Athens City Councilwoman, D-3rd Ward, Hughes, who owns Village Bakery, and Nathan Johnson, who is an attorney for Buckeye Forest Council, have been combating the advent of fracking in the region.

The hearing, chaired by Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn, was planned to get a better understanding of Ohio’s views on fracking regulations.

Though residents expressed their concerns during the meeting, many of the companies said they supported efforts to continue fracking exploration.

“By encouraging policies that provide regulatory certainty for the energy industry and foster the development of natural gas, there is the potential for all communities to enjoy these same benefits from energy production,” Lamborn said.

Supporting the oil and gas industry has been regulated very well in the past and will bring an economic boom to poorer regions of Ohio like Athens, said Rep. Bill Johnson, R-6th, a member of the committee.

“The State of Ohio has been regulating hydraulic fracturing for (more than) 60 years, and we do not need bureaucrats from Washington D.C. telling Ohio’s regulators how to do the job they have already been doing responsibly for decades,” Bill Johnson said.

With the majority of the speakers being from or directly affected by the oil and gas industry, Nathan Johnson said the hearing seemed more a “pep rally for the industry” and less an opportunity for residents to express concerns with potential problems surrounding fracking.

“I certainly liked that I was invited to speak, but the congressmen really weren’t interested in anything we had to say,” Nathan Johnson said. “They completely talked over our issues about pollution.”

The testimonies of Papai, Hughes and Nathan Johnson revolved around the environmental problems that have been linked to fracking and the problems drilling in Wayne National Forest potentially poses for Athens’ drinking water.

Papai said she was only asked one question regarding her testimony on water contamination, whereas Hughes and Nathan Johnson were not asked to speak at all.

“It is unfortunate we weren’t better received since we represented many voices of Ohio residents,” Nathan Johnson said.

Though he did not attend the hearing, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-15th, said shale oil and gas drilling could provide an economic boom in Southeast Ohio and that it is worth looking into.

“I support a scientific-based approach to fracking to make sure it is done safely,” Stivers said.

Spencer Pederson, press secretary for the Natural Resources Committee, said though there was some differences in opinion, the majority of the testimonies indicated Ohio is capable of regulating fracking by itself.

“What the people of Ohio want is what they already have here so they should be able to keep it,” Pederson said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


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