Archive for January, 2012

Ohioans want a Bridge Fuel, but don’t want ODNR to drive us over a Bridge to Nowhere

Hydrofracking in Ohio has become, if not a household term, then at the least a salient issue for Ohioans.  Recently, Quinnipiac University released a survey indicating that 7 out of 10 Ohioans believe that hydro-fracking (deep shale gas drilling) should be stopped until studies of its effects are completed.

The poll shows people are convinced that hydro-fracking brings economic development with support by a 64-29 margin that the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risks, and 85-11 support for the notion that it will bring jobs to the state.

The remainder of the poll portrays folks as with cognitive dissonance. The poll showed Ohioans anxious about its impact on the environment. By a margin of 72-23, Ohioans say the practice should be stopped until further study.

Ohio wants the bridge-fuel, big bucks promise of the Ohio Oil and Gas Industry spins our way, but they want ODNR to take it slow and get it right.  That is exactly what OEC and scores of other organizations have been saying for over a year.

Listen to OEC’s Jack Shaner’s reaction to the poll on Ohio Public Radio

Public polls not only take the pulse of how citizens feel about issues but also to predict in what ways citizens will act. And Ohioans recently demonstrated their willingness to organize and act with Senate Bill 5, putting a ballot initiative on the table. Further, swings in public opinion have occurred throughout history in response to environmental catastrophes such as the burning of the Cuyahoga River and the detrimental effects of DDT. These swings in public opinion have lead us to some of our strongest environmental protections.

The General Assembly should take heed of this voice of the people, and learn its lesson from Senate Bill 5 – the people govern. Such a swing shows that the people are worried.

And Ohioans have good reason to worry. High volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing, currently being used to tap into the deep shale formations all over the United States, is very different from conventional drilling. This technique involves more water in the fracturing process, more chemical additives to the fracturing fluid, more air emissions with a higher density of wells and large numbers of wells, and more toxic waste and waste fluids, along with community impacts such as damage to roads with more truck traffic. The take home message is that deep shale gas drilling will very clearly be industrial-scale development, with industrial scale pollution and industrial scale accidents.

In the state of New York, citizens have had more time to get educated on hydro-fracking (deep shale gas drilling). This is due, in part, to the state’s SEPA, or mini (National) Environmental Policy Act, which requires an environmental impact statement be completed before the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation issues permits for drilling. But in Ohio this is not the case. Our very own Department of Natural Resources has forged ahead with permitting 113 deep shale gas wells (with 34 of these wells already drilled) before the regulations that guide industry and protect public health and the environment are in place. Ohio legislators take note: by a margin of 72 to 23 Ohioans want fracking stopped until further study.  Suffice it to say: public opinion has swung.

This poll shows that the people of Ohio are moving toward the NY model – full environmental review BEFORE there is a problem.  The natural gas has been underground for millions of years.  A few months to protect 11 million Ohioans is worth the deferred compensation.

Read Ohio SB 213 — Moratorium on Fracking 

* In 2010, respected public opinion polling analyst Nate Silver ranked the Quinnipiac University poll as most accurate among major polls conducting surveys in two states or more

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(Posted by Trent A. Dougherty, Director of Legal Affairs, Ohio Environmental Council, Director of Ohio Environmental Law Center)

Today, President Obama, pressured by Congress’ ultimatum, denied the Keystone XL proposed 1,700 mile pipeline that would have stretched from Canada to the Gulf Coast. The U.S. State Department, in a statement, confirmed that the administration has rejected the proposal, and TransCanada will have to go back to the drawing board if they want to draft a plan that the president might seem more appropriate.

The pipeline would bring Canadian Tar Sand Oil to the Gulf Coast refineries, and in the middle disrupt the ecology of Middle America.

This denial occurred on the same day that the Ohio Senate approved 25-7, SR69 (Wagoner) to urge Congress to support the continued and increased importation of oil derived from Canadian oil sands and urge Congress to urge  the U.S. Secretary of State to approve the TransCanada Keystone Coast Expansion pipeline project.

Pipeline proponents have already called this a job killing decision, and will use this as a rallying cry going into the next few weeks of Presidential Primaries.  Still, we will probably see a revised (and approved) proposal as the November Election comes closer — politics may win in the end.  Nevertheless, the denial of the XL pipeline  today will be beneficial in the long run – either stopping the ill-advised plan altogether or allow a revised and less ecologically threatening plan to move forward.

The XL Pipeline decision, however, got me thinking about the little oil/gas issue we have here in Ohio currently.  What is the fate of the oil and gas boom in Ohio?  Will the state follow the sound reasoning of the Obama Administration in the XL decision and make sure the most ecologically protective projects are put in place before approving large-scale expansion? I hate to be pessimistic, but I fear Ohio won’t.

Ohio is outdriving its headlights when it comes to identifying and controlling the risks of the shale gas boom.  Ohio is permitting the next generation of wells without first fixing the ills of last generation’s risks.

With such colossal-scale drilling, and new ecological and geological uncertainties  arising on an almost weekly basis, it is imperative that we take a collective breath and make certain that regulations truly protect our gas-field communities. The same ‘take it slow’ reasoning and ‘sound science over political science’ approach the President took in today’s decision, was the genesis of the call for a Moratorium on Shale Drilling and Fracking Permits in Ohio which OEC and 50 other organizations presented to the Ohio Legislature last Spring. All signs seem to point to a reasonable slow down.

We have already been taught one lesson by our thirst for shale gas, thanks to nearly a dozen earthquakes in Youngstown, and we could take a lesson from the President’s approach to Keystone.  Yet, I fear we won’t learn anything from either as Ohio drills deeper and deeper.

 

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(Posted by Grant Maki, Law Fellow at the Ohio Environmental Council)

Today, Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) and its allies submitted comments to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency regarding their proposed General Permit to authorize Oil and Gas to impact wetlands and streams.

OEPA is working to establish a General Permit that lays the conditions under which an oil and natural gas drilling companies may impact streams and wetlands.  If an applicant is not able to meet the terms of the General Permit, they can still apply for an Individual Permit, but the process will be much longer and require more scrutiny from EPA.

This proposed Draft General Permit would allow an applicant to “impact” (meaning “fill in”) up to half an acre of Category 1 or Category 2 wetland, and up to 300 feet of stream.  The General Permit would not be available to cover impacts to the highest quality Category 3 wetlands and the highest quality streams and other water bodies. Any impacts would have to be “made up” by purchasing credits at a mitigation bank, which is an entity that will construct artificial wetlands to replace those that are impacted by new construction projects.   The permit would require a company to buy credits for at least 1.5 times the number of acres of wetland that they impacted.  In theory, applicants would be “making up” their impacts to our wetlands.

However, Ohio EPA published a discouraging self-assessment of its mitigation program in 2006 and another in 2010.

In spite of the mitigation ratios, the mitigation projects have been dismal failures in terms of replacing the valuable functions of wetlands.

The OEC, along with the Buckeye Forest Council , Sierra Club, and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice submitted comments to OEPA regarding the Draft General Permit, urging first and foremost that EPA put greater emphasis on the avoiding and minimizing impacts to our wetlands, and to treat mitigation as a last resort.   The coalition urged OEPA to:

  • Prevent applicants from inadvertently impacting certain wetlands that are difficult for the untrained eye to recognize as wetlands;
  • Notify local authorities – especially flood plain managers, of proposed drilling activity;
  • Ensure that drillers don’t use the streams or wetland as a water source, which would probably dry them out
  • Work with DNR to monitor impacts to streams and wetlands throughout the life of the drilling operation;
  • Prevent multiple drilling sites in the same wetland are from cumulatively causing large impacts by limiting total impacts to each wetland to 0.5 acres.

Read OEC/BFC/Sierra Club/CHEJ Joint Comments here.

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