Kudos to City Council for taking steps against local oil and gas development

By Alyssa Bernstein*

Athens City Council should be applauded for making efforts to protect the Athens wellhead zone (the area of the aquifer supplying our water) from possible contamination due to industrial activities such as unconventional fracking, especially given that no other governmental agency seems to be making such efforts.

According to the spokesperson for ODNR (as reported in The Athens NEWS, April 12), that agency will grant permits for drilling regardless of whether it would be done in a wellhead protection zone, as long as the drilling proposal complies with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Athens Water Wellhead (Photo: Athens News/Dustin Franz)

However, in fact the SDWA exempts unconventional fracking from its require-ments, as a consequence of the energy bill passed in 2005 that included the “Halliburton loophole.”

So the ODNR spokesperson’s statement, as reported, was misleading. In fact the federal government is leaving regulation of fracking to the states, and Ohio’s Republican-dominated state government has been leaving decision-making about permits for unconventional fracking to ODNR, which says it disregards local regulations and does not protect wellheads from drilling. Thus it seems that no governmental agency other than the Athens City Council acknowledges a duty to protect our wellhead.

The risks of water contamination from unconventional fracking and related industrial operations have been proven, and if the Athens wellhead were to become contaminated, the results would be disastrous for the entire area. All of Ohio’s city and village councils should follow the example of ours in Athens. If enough do, then possibly Ohio’s other governmental agencies will start acknowledging their duties to the citizens whose health and livelihoods they are putting at risk.

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* This piece appeared in the Athens News as a letter to the Editor on April 19, 2012

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