Ohio University Environmental Studies Board Members Approve Resolution on Fracking

Environmental Studies Advisory Board

Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing at Ohio University

The undersigned members of the Environmental Studies Advisory Board approved the following resolution:

As the fracking boom is reaching Southeast Ohio, it is important to remember that our region has experienced short-lived boom-to-bust resource extraction before. The coal boom of the late 19th and early 20th century left Southeast Ohio in a state of environmental degradation and deforestation. The economic benefits went one-sidedly to a few corporations and individuals, while the population remained impoverished and the environment degraded. Poverty, like the environmental impacts, extends to the present day with Athens County posting the highest poverty rate in the state at 32.8 percent.[i]

A fracking boom without attention to and remediation of undesirable short- and long-term effects will likely have similarly serious consequences for our social and natural environment. Fracking has been presented by extractive industries to landowners, institutions, and the public at large as an inexpensive, environmentally-attractive way to extract gas and oil from deep-level shale.[ii] Furthermore, it has been presented as an important engine for local economic development. However, recent scientific studies indicate that all phases of fracking may result in significant negative effects to public and environmental health.[iii]  In addition, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is currently conducting studies on existing fracking operations to identify health and environmental effects.[iv] Lastly, the studies that stress the economic benefits associated with fracking have not been, for the most part, peer-reviewed and have been shown to overestimate the expected impact on local economic development.[v]

The undersigned members of the Environmental Studies Advisory Board cannot, in good conscience, be passive bystanders in such an environmentally obtrusive and potentially hazardous activity as fracking, especially since we now have the tools to understand and regulate this resource extraction method. Scientists, engineers, policy makers and the public need more time to make intelligent and informed decisions about the full range of social, economic and environmental costs and benefits of fracking.

Despite the fact that fracking is an industrial method of extracting natural gas that involves the extended use of chemicals and hazardous materials during all phases of the process, fracking is exempted from relevant federal environmental regulations.  State regulations are currently insufficient and still under development in Ohio. Meanwhile, policy research in New York State suggests that “underregulation can lead to unnecessary, tragic, and irreversible costs borne by those populations least equipped to bear them.”[vi]

We therefore voice our concern that fracking on land owned by Ohio University could have negative effects on the health and safety of our students, employees and the community at large. The well-being of Ohio University depends directly on the beauty and physical integrity of our campuses and their natural environment. Fracking-related contamination and pollution would significantly affect the university’s ability to attract and retain students and faculty.

We urge the leadership of Ohio University to refrain from opening up its land to hydraulic fracturing until better knowledge about potential side effects—specifically water, air, and soil contamination—is available. Additionally, we request that the administration and the Board of Trustees include faculty, staff, students, and community members in all discussions related to hydraulic fracturing on University land.

However, should Ohio University ultimately choose—or be legally mandated— to lease its land for hydraulic fracturing, we strongly recommend that all of the precautions listed in the appendix be included and guaranteed in every lease contract.

The opinions expressed in this resolution are not necessarily those of the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, Ohio University or The Ohio University Board of Trustees.

This resolution was signed by the following members of the Environmental Studies Advisory Board:

Dr. Elliot Abrams, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Dr. Ted Bernard, Environmental Studies Program
Dr. Geoff Buckley, Department of Geography; Interim Director, Environmental Studies Program
Dr. Ariaster Chimeli, Department of Economics
Dr. Bernhard Debatin, E. W. Scripps School of Journalism
Dr. Jared DeForest, Department of Environmental and Plant Biology
Dr. Glenn Jackson, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; Chair Environmental Studies Advisory Board
Dr. Natalie Kruse, Environmental Studies Program
Dr. Dina L. López, Department of Geological Sciences
Dr. Nancy Manring, Department of Political Science; Director, Environmental Studies Certificate Program
Dr. Bruce Martin, Recreation Studies Program
Dr. Michele Morrone, Department of Social and Public Health
Dr. Willem M. Roosenburg, Department of Biological Sciences
Dr. Nancy Stevens, Department of Biomedical Sciences

 Appendix:

Minimum precautions to be included in any lease agreements between Ohio University and horizontal hydraulic high-pressure fracturing companies:

  • Water withdrawal for fracking must be regulated to prevent draining of local streams, ponds, and lakes (currently, Ohio allows a single company to withdraw up to 100,000 gallons of water per day without permit).
  • Tier 1-3 baseline water testing of all potentially affected ground water supplies must be conducted prior to initiation of fracking activities so that valid correlations can be made subsequent to the fracking process.
  • The type and quantities of all chemicals used in the fracking process must be disclosed prior to use. Such transparency would guide health and environmental monitoring such that health issues associated with toxic chemical releases and spills could be addressed with the proper causal information (currently, Ohio law only requires after-the-fact disclosure and many chemical mixes remain undisclosed as “proprietary” formulas).
  • Pressure testing of concrete well casings must be performed to ensure quality control, as this is the most common source of failure and water contamination;
  • Vapor recovery systems must be implemented to prevent release of toxic gases into the air.
  • Independent (third-party) air quality monitoring systems must be required at all fracking sites to identify the release of toxic fumes from wellheads, compressors, tanks, pipelines, and storage pits.
  • Well gas must not be flared, but either captured or used to generate electricity via microturbines or other efficient devices.
  • Noise and light pollution must be kept to a minimum; compressor stations and drilling pads must not be in visible or audible vicinity of Ohio University campuses.
  • Drilling-mud-containing chemicals must be handled and disposed of as hazardous waste, and not be stored in open ponds.
  • Frack wastewater-containing-chemicals must be handled and disposed of as hazardous waste.

Notes:

[i]    Ohio Department of Development. (2011). Ohio Poverty Report. April 2011

[ii]   See, for example, Chesapeake Energy webpage at http://www.chk.com/Pages/default.aspx;  ODNR webpage at http://www.ohiodnr.com/mineral/shale/tabid/23415/Default.aspx; and the Ohio Oil and Gas Association at http://ooga.org/.

[iii]   See, e.g.: Theo Colborn,  Carol Kwiatkowski, Kim Schultz,  and Mary Bachran, “Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective,” Human & Ecological Risk Assessment 17(2011), 1039-1056;  Madelon L. Finkel, “The Rush to Drill for Natural Gas: A Public Health Cautionary Tale,” American Journal of Public Health 101(2011), 784-785; Michelle Bamberger and Robert E. Oswald, “Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health,” New Solutions 22(2012) 51-77, accessed March 8, 2012, dx.doi.org/10.2190/NS.22.1.e;  Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea, “Methane and the Greenhouse-Gas Footprint of Natural Gas from Shale Formations.” Climatic Change 106 (2011): 679-690, accessed March 8, 2012, doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0061-5; Robert W.  Howarth, Anthony Ingraffea,  and Terry Engelder. “Natural Gas: Should Fracking Stop?” Nature 477 (2011):  271–275, accessed March 8, 2012, doi:10.1038/477271a; and Chris Mooney. “The Truth about Fracking.” Scientific American 305 (2011): 80-85.

[v]   Thomas c. Kinnaman, “The Economic Impact of Shale Gas Extraction: A Review of Existing Studies,” Ecological Economics, 70 (2011): 1243-1249; see also: Amanda L. Weinstein and Mark D. Partridge, The Economic Value of Shale Natural Gas in Ohio (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy Summary, 2011), accessed March 8, 2012, http://go.osu.edu/shalejobs.

[vi]   Emily C. Powers, “Fracking and Federalism: Support for an Adaptive Approach that Avoids the Tragedy of The Regulatory Commons,” Journal of Law & Policy, 19(2011), 913-971.

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