Archive for March, 2011

COLUMBUS, OH – A consortium of dozens of environmental and health and safety groups, representing tens of thousands of members throughout Ohio, today presented a letter to each member of the Ohio General Assembly asking that body to immediately issue a moratorium ordering the Ohio Department of Natural resources (ODNR) to withhold approval of well permits involving high volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing, exploration, or extraction until such time as these drilling practices are demonstrated to be safe for the environment and human health and are properly and effectively regulated.

“We have grave concerns about whether deep-shale drilling can be conducted in a safe and responsible manner under current regulations. Ohio is ill-equipped for oil and gas drilling at the unprecedented scale the Administration and Big Oil syndicates envision” said Teresa Mills, with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice.

The Kasich Administration claims that Marcellus and Utica Shale exploration and exploitation will be a “God send” for Ohio’s economy. Just last week a bill was introduced in the Ohio House (H.B. 133) to pave the way for greatly increased Oil and Gas drilling on ALL state-owned lands, as a quick fix for Ohio’s state budget deficit. But at what cost? Incidents such as explosions, toxic air emissions, underground casing failures, surface spills and groundwater contamination in Pennsylvania and other states have resulted in significant harm to the environment, and public health and safety, and present unacceptable risks to existing industries such as tourism, agriculture, and development.

The recent New York Times investigative report on hydraulic fracturing was only the latest expose detailing the harms to human health and water quality in Marcellus shale- rich Pennsylvania. The Times series described incidents such as flowback waste water from Marcellus shale natural gas wells in Pennsylvania that contaminated sewage treatment plants and sources of drinking water with radioactive elements; and pollution of the Monongahela River from drilling in late 2008 that was so serious that residents of Pittsburgh were advised not to drink their tap water.

While hydraulic fracturing has been used to develop oil and gas for years in Ohio’s shallow wells, the volume of water and of chemicals that must be used to extract oil and gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, is unprecedented, and the horizontal wells extending thousands of feet in several directions compound the risks. “Ohio is clearly not ready to deal with the relatively new high volume hydraulic fracturing techniques that must be used in exploiting tight shale formations in the state,” explained Cheryl Johncox, Executive Director of Buckeye Forest Council. “We have only to look to our neighbor to the east, Pennsylvania, to see what can happen when this new technology is used in an environment without adequate government regulation.”

In 2010, the Ohio General Assembly passed the first update of Ohio’s oil and gas drilling laws in over 40 years (SB 165 (amending Sec. 1509, ORC)). However, as the moratorium letter delivered to the General Assembly today points out, that recently passed legislation did not contemplate nor incorporate any protections specific to the unprecedented scale and foreseeable risk of deep shale drilling and horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

“The overhaul and update of the oil and gas drilling laws of SB 165 were due in part to the property damage and injuries from recent accidents, such as the explosion and groundwater contamination in Bainbridge Township in 2007.  Ohioans should not have to wait for a similar incident, or worse, a human health disaster, in order to protect ourselves and prepare our regulatory structure from deep shale drilling,” said Vanessa Pesec, President of NEOGAP, the Northeast Ohio Gas Accountability Project. “The General Assembly must remedy this gap in current law.”

Not only are there important water and air pollution concerns that Ohio needs to address, but withdrawal of huge quantities of fresh water necessary per hydraulic fracturing cycle may further threaten the quantity of Ohio’s water resources. “Permitting of such an activity that will greatly impact the constitutionally held private property rights in reasonable use of groundwater could make the state of Ohio vulnerable to scores of takings claims,” said Trent Dougherty, attorney with the Ohio Environmental Council. “Today’s blessing for Ohio’s budget could quickly turn into a curse on future generations.”

“The resources of the Marcellus and Utica formations took millennia to develop, and we must at least be diligent enough to take the time necessary to guarantee that the extraction can be and is done safely and responsibly” added Dougherty.

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