June 14, 2024

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Environmental group calls on conservancy district to halt water sales to energy industry

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NEW PHILADELPHIA ‒ The FreshWater Accountability Project is calling on the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) to halt the sale of water to the oil and gas industry over environmental concerns.

John Stolz, director of the Center of Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, speaks at a press conference held by the FreshWater Accountability Project in New Philadelphia.John Stolz, director of the Center of Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, speaks at a press conference held by the FreshWater Accountability Project in New Philadelphia.

John Stolz, director of the Center of Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, speaks at a press conference held by the FreshWater Accountability Project in New Philadelphia.

The group aired its concerns at a press conference Friday in front of the Tuscarawas County Courthouse in New Philadelphia as the Conservancy Court, the MWCD’s governing body, met at the courthouse. The FreshWater Accountability Project had asked to testify at the annual meeting of the Conservancy Court but was denied.

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The organization is calling for a halt in water sales because of what it says is growing evidence of harm caused by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used by the energy industry to extract gas and oil. The process has been used extensively in east central Ohio. The group wants sales stopped until a full assessment of current and projected impacts caused by fracking’s water impacts is completed by independent experts.

‘The money is not worth it’

“We have asked them (MWCD) to do a better job of protecting our water in the face of fracking,” said Lea Harper, managing director of the organization. “I don’t like to say, but I’ve said this many times, fracking is not as bad as I thought it would be at first. It’s much worse than I could have ever imagined.”

A sign opposing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is displayed at a press conference Friday in New Philadelphia sponsored by the FreshWater Accountability Project.A sign opposing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is displayed at a press conference Friday in New Philadelphia sponsored by the FreshWater Accountability Project.

A sign opposing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is displayed at a press conference Friday in New Philadelphia sponsored by the FreshWater Accountability Project.

She talked about how her family planned on retiring in Guernsey County, but then she learned that fracking was planned there.

“It was not just the truck traffic and the headaches and the smell of benzene, but for us it was the heartbreak of seeing the water taken from Seneca Lake and Wills Creek, knowing that water that was taken would never glisten in the sun again, at least we hope it doesn’t, because after water is fracked, there’s forever chemicals, there’s proprietary chemicals, there’s radioactive radium 226-228, and we know that sooner or later, when there’s migratory pathways under our reservoirs, that it will be very difficult if not impossible and extremely costly to ever clean it up after it’s been fracked.”

Over the past decade, the MWCD has spent around $160 million on projects throughout the 18-county district, including activity centers, visitors centers and improvements to campgrounds using money from oil and gas revenue.

“Someday, even the MWCD will be unable to deny the damage,” Harper said. “We will continue to plead for protection and document the damage, so those who profited from fracking will be held accountable for those costs, and not the taxpayers, not the water rate payers, not the people who live here. The money is not worth it.”

Action wanted

The FreshWater Accountability Project is calling on the MWCD to:

  • Continuously monitor fracking contamination incursions into stream and reservoirs.

  • Install additional steam gauges as needed to determine if water quality is adequately protected.

  • Require that no Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals be used to frack in areas near reservoirs it has leased in the region. PFAS are a health and environmental concern because they are known as forever chemicals.

  • Set aside all revenue gained through leases and water sales for future remediation of water and soil contamination.

MWCD response

Craig Butler, the conservancy district’s executive director, issued a statement in response.

“We understand that some people oppose oil and gas, and we respect their right to have that view,” he said. “As an organization committed to the stewardship of natural resources we go above and beyond to do our job the right way and that’s not going to change. While properly managing our natural resources and protecting the environment, we are making historic investments that benefit everyone in the region. We will always be proud of that fact.”

In a statement, Rob Brundrett, president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has been conducting water well investigations since the early 1980s. None of them have revealed groundwater quality problems due to hydraulic fracturing.

“The MWCD is just one example of how Ohio continues to benefit from the shale revolution,” he said. “It has proven to be an exceptional steward of the water and mineral resources it possesses and continues to be a leader in conservation and innovation. The state has seen over $105 billion in investment by the industry since 2011. Developing natural resources and enjoying the outdoors are not mutually exclusive, a concept the MWCD continues to prove every day.”

Reach Jon at 330-364-8415 or at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on The Times-Reporter: Conservation group urges MWCD to end water sales to energy industry

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