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Guest column/Money vs. environment

Yellowstone National Park in Montana experienced massive flooding last week: “Water devoured roads, swept away bridges, isolated entire towns and shut down one of America’s busiest parks.” The flooding was blamed on a cool-wet spring which was equivalent to 200 percent of the normal moisture from snow melt. Warmer temperatures and more rain caused the Yellowstone River to overflow its banks with a flow of nearly 50,000 cubic feet of water per second. USGS data shows that during the past 130 years, the river only reached 32,000 cubic feet three times. This was a one in 500-year flood event.

Kansas is one of the major cattle-producing states in America. Farmers witnessed cattle dropping dead as heat spiked from 79 degrees on June 9 to 101 degrees on June 11. More than 2,000 cattle were lost in the intense heat wave triggered by climate change.

These recent events along with the storms that hit Ohio last week are proof that the climate is changing and severe weather will soon be the new norm. Still, politicians like U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, and the oil and gas industry continue to cling to the very fuel that is driving this climate crisis. It is estimated that in 2021, extreme weather caused by climate change cost taxpayers close to $100 billion dollars.

We know from scientific studies that global methane levels have significantly increased since fracking exploded in North America. Also, low-producing wells that are allowed to leak contribute to the large amounts of methane emissions in North America. Tracy Sabetta of Ohio’s Moms Clean Air Force said, “If you look at prices from 2019, there’s more than $700 million in wasted natural gas. That is enough to supply over 3.6 million homes in the U.S. annually, or to power every single home in Ohio.”

Fracking is fueling the climate crisis, but this fact is ignored by many including the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District. The MWCD recently signed a lease agreement with Encino Energy to frack 7,300 acres of property at Tappan Lake in Harrison County. The deal will place $40 million dollars into the MWCD coffers. The MWCD has a long history with oil and gas extraction, leasing thousands of acres for Utica shale drilling and selling water from MWCD lakes to be used by drillers for fracking. It was once stated that the MWCD is the “No. 1 beneficiary of drilling in Ohio.”

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District includes parts or the entirety of 27 Ohio counties. All of these counties have seen some impact from oil and gas development; however, the counties of Carroll, Harrison, Belmont, Noble and Guernsey have been significantly impacted.

The watershed made $200 million on Utica Shale wells from 2009 to 2015. Even though local citizens expressed concerns about water sales, in 2012, the MWCD sold 11 million gallons of water from Clendening Lake in Harrison County to Gulfport Energy. Water has also been sold to the oil and gas industry from Seneca Lake and Piedmont Lake.

Gordon Maupin, the president of the MWCD Board of Directors, said this recent lease agreement reflects “our desire to renew and increase our focus on improving the watershed and water quality and protecting our resource by requiring enhanced environmental protections.”

Those “enhanced environmental protections” Maupin speaks of are superficial at best and include walls to block noise and visuals, some water testing and erosion protection. It is impossible to protect land, air and water from the pollution of fracking since this industry is basically exempt from all major federal environmental laws and regulations such as: Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to Know Act.

Citizens living near oil and gas activities have expressed concerns about drilling operations which include: The chemicals/additives used to drill and frack; the radionuclides brought up to the surface in produced water; drilling in ecologically sensitive areas; contamination from spills, leaks, blowouts and deliberate releases; subsurface migration of contaminants among aquifers, and increased levels of radon gas in homes near fracking.

Workers and nearby residents can be exposed to air contaminants like nitrogen oxides, benzene, ozone, toluene, methane and fine particulate matter during the fracking process. Runoff of toxic compounds from the well pads can enter Tappan Lake, the drinking water source for Cadiz. Should the lake become impaired, where will Cadiz get its water supply?

The U.S. EPA and Department of Energy said that an average of 7 million gallons of water and more than 70,000 gallons of chemicals are used for each well fracked. More than 80 percent of these compounds have never been reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Many of those reviewed are known carcinogens and hormone blockers.

Accidents happen. The XTO Energy well blowout in Belmont County in February 2018 spewed out 120 tons of methane an hour for 20 days. Methane is 84 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide. You cannot claim to be a good steward of the land and ignore all the externalities visited on the landscape from fracking. I live on Tappan Lake and have seen the effects of fracking in the county. Pipelines crisscross the forested hills, fracking trucks congest the rural roadways, water is being withdrawn from local creeks, and even the night skies are obliterated by fracking flares.

I can see the new $6 million Tappan Lake Marina from our boat docks and wonder how profitable that marina would be should the lake become contaminated. How much will our property values decrease? Will the fish from the lake be safe to eat if frack wastes as well as brine from fracking contaminates the watershed of the lake?

How can the MWCD justify financing improvements by allowing the fossil fuel industry to destroy the very landscape they are supposedly conserving? The definition of conservancy is: A body concerned with the preservation of nature, specific species or natural resources. The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is no conservancy.

(Pokladnik, a resident of Uhrichsville, holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, master’s and doctorates in environmental studies and is certified in hazardous materials regulations.)

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