Ruminations on Fracking and the Moratorium

By Bob Sheak

As I understand it, the goal of SD-FRAC is to support a moratorium on the whole process that culminates in hydraulic fracturing and the release and recovery of methane from shale rock. Following are some thoughts about strategy and goals of this endeavor.

A Moratorium

A moratorium seeks to keep fracking in all of its aspects from commencing until it is proven by careful inspection and perhaps scientific studies that it will not pollute surrounding air, water, and soil or present potential harm to the health of people and other living beings, or result in the stripping of woodland, etc. A moratorium would also require the gas/oil companies to specify how they would safely deal with the waste water and other contaminants produced in the fracking process. Some of the requirements would have to be set by the state and others by the county. Yet others by the federal government (see also the SD-FRAC article Here’s why Ohio needs a moratorium on fracking).

Athens County

A moratorium would give the county commissioners time to work out an agreement with the companies that would provide for some sort of bond, or insurance, to pay for any damage to the county’s roads, bridges, wetlands, woodlands, etc. The commissioner’s agreement would also ensure that the  companies would be responsible for much or all of the repair of damaged county infrastructure, or, alternatively, pay the county’s engineer department to do the work. As an example, Stark County has an agreement with Chesapeake (not perfect) that includes considerable protection for the county and its environment, and so on.
It is clear as well that the relevant state agencies and the county’s engineering department would have to have the resources to sufficiently monitor and inspect all phases of the fracking operations, and the authority to stop fracking operations when there are violations of government rules. An effective moratorium is close to being the equivalent of a ban.
If a moratorium with such provisions was put in place before fracking began, such a moratorium would probably result in a ban on fracking. That is the regulations that are called for by a moratorium would be so expensive and time-consuming for the companies in the accident-prone fracking operations, they would hesitate or postpone going ahead with drilling. (See article below on accidents.) In other words, an effective moratorium might have the same effect as a ban for some extended period of time. The only difference is that an outright ban is likely to occur sooner than in the case of an effective moratorium that requires full safety measures to be instituted before shale gas miners are given a green light.

A ban?

By the way, Rich Tomsu and many other individuals and organization, particularly among organic and alternative farming and restaurant groups, and groups that rank environmental safety high in their priorities, all continue to favor a ban on fracking. Rich says that we can still get a ban if we have “the political will.” The hundreds of available family and community reports from across the country, the ongoing investigative reporting, dozens of websites, and a growing number of scientific studies, all document that fracking and related activities produce harmful environmental, health, and even longer-term economic consequences. Indeed, most of us would prefer a ban.

Thousands of acres already “leased”

Unfortunately, we in Athens County are probably beyond the point at which the ban or effective moratorium options are available to us. Why? There are tens of thousands of county acres already leased. From what I have learned, the county does not have the legal resources or authority to challenge the validity or appropriateness of the leases.

The drift toward or away from “safe” fracking

The County Commissioners will present a resolution on fracking next week, but the resolution will probably emphasize the need for “safe” and regulated mining operations, not for further study of the matter. The County’s Engineer’s Department will do a couple of things:
(1) take videos of the roads and bridges to be used by drillers and
(2) “cooperatively” enter into general and incidence-related agreements with the drillers.
The department can react forcefully in cases where fracking trucks have damaged a bridge (after the fact). But it doesn’t appear that, with limited resources, the county is ready to adequately protect even or roads and bridges from the effects of the massive increase in truck traffic associated with fracking.

The Role of Opponents

Opponents have raised the consciousness of Athens’ residents and elected officials. The efforts of opponents to fracking in the county have done a great job in spreading the information on the dangers of fracking. While this may not have an effect now, my strong impression is that the efforts have raised the consciousness of citizens not only in Athens but in nearby counties as well. This awareness will not disappear. It’s now embedded in our county’s contemporary history.

The struggle is not over

As others have suggested, we should continue to fight for tough regulations, use our influence to help ensure that existing regulations are enforced, perhaps monitor aspects of the fracking projects once underway, publicize the inevitable accidents and damage that will occur, continue to lobby elected officials for stricter regulations, and do our utmost to keep the Wayne National Forest from being opened up to fracking.

The issue of injection wells.

There is another issue to which we have not yet given much attention, that is, the problems associated with injection wells, two of which are located in the area. Right now the injection wells are being used for the disposal of fracking wastes from Pennsylvania, which makes us a dumping ground for some pretty vile material. You may know that injection wells around Youngstown have been closed down, with the consent of our ultra-conservative governor, because they are suspected of causing a recent increase in earthquakes. Along with the inappropriateness of allowing Pennsylvania gas companies to dump their waste products in Ohio’s and Athens injections wells, there is a concern that ODNR doesn’t have the resources to inspect the wells at a level that is called for. And the Youngstown experience tells us that we should continue to take a stand on the side of caution and safety.

The leases that have been signed are not yet finalized

The gas companies that have signed leases with local landowners have not yet started mining for natural gas (or oil). Until they start operations, the lease agreements are not in effect. According to a provision in the leases constructed for local landowners by attorney Lavelle,

“Lessee [a gas/oil company] shall pay to the Lessor [the property owner(s)] the sum of Two Thousand Five Hundred and No/100Dollars ($2,500) per acre of each acre for which title is confirmed satisfactorily to Lessee in its sole discretion. Lessee shall pay to Lessor the Bonus consideration on all
confirmed acres by March 15, 2012 or this lease is totally void and of no force and effect.”
In other words, there is still a chance that the companies will not drill and that the leases would be null and void.
———————————————————————–
Below is a link to the article “3355 Marcellus violations in four years,” which gives a good overview of accidents and violations related to fracking in Pennsylvania. http://marcelluseffect.blogspot.com/2012/02/3355-marcellus-violations-in-four-years.html

The study “Risky Business: An Analysis of Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling Violations in Pennsylvania 2008-2011” is available here: http://pennenvironmentcenter.org/sites/environment/files/reports/Risky%20Business%20Violations%20Report_0.pdf

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One response to “Ruminations on Fracking and the Moratorium

  1. Thank you for making this website, very informative.

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