Debate Forum Left, 8/2/11

Love thy neighbor, don’t poison them

By Jolene Pohl-Crowell

 

Jolene Pohl-Crowell

Call me crazy, but I don’t think my neighbor should have the right to poison my neighborhood. If you are in desperate need of money and considering leasing your property to gas and oil companies, you may want to step back and look at the bigger picture. Money will only get you so far after your land has been stripped of its resources. It is open season on vulnerable Americans who have lost their way due to economic strain. The fracking method used today has never before been attempted at such depths for gas deposits but companies are betting on Americans to not know the difference.

 

To be honest, if I were offered $5,000 per acre to lease my land, there would be a strong urge to say, “Where do I sign?” I may even trust that companies have my best interests in mind as I skip the small print. Fortunately, some Ohioans have the benefit of the hindsight by other landowners who have signed on the dotted line. Listening to the landowners instead of the gas and oil companies seems to be the best way to gauge the outcome of leasing property. After all, what do landowners have to lose? If landowners were exposing stories and evidence about the contamination of ground water and air quality more often, I would stick with the people who aren’t making a profit from my signature. Putting politics and government responsibility aside, I would hope my neighbors would use common sense before signing over to an industry with such a poor track record for public safety.

The Green Environmental Coalition (GEC) in Greene County has recently focused on educating landowners about the risks associated with leasing to gas and oil companies. Vicki Hennessy is president of the non-profit organization and said “abstract” promises are made by gas and oil companies to get people to sign the lease to drill. Hennessy said there is no real way a company will know what kind of profit will be made before drilling begins, but that doesn’t stop promises of bonus prizes.

Residents should never consider any lease agreement without first discussing the details with their lawyer according to Hennessy. She said drilling for oil and/or gas resources utilizes several acres and the property is completely cleared. Included on the GEC website is a gas and oil industry “talking points” list with directions for company employees to sell landowners into leasing their land: “Ohio is a conservative leaning, Midwest state. The typical Ohio resident will welcome you into their home and allow you to speak. This is critical. Face to face interaction can make the difference.”

The list continues with instructions on how to make sure a lease is signed as quickly and easily as possible. It also refers to topics to avoid discussing, including water quality. This list was obtained on the property of a prospect of West Bay Explorations Inc. in Greene County. Hennessy said West Bay has recently been evaluating the Miami Valley.

“We’re not overreacting,” said Hennessy. “There are too many incidents of contamination. You can visibly see the damage, the traffic, the pollution.”

Concern by local communities is growing stronger as more stories of contamination problems begin to surface. Mary Clare Rietz of the Ohio Alliance for People and Environment, a group partnering with grassroots community organizations and the Network for Oil & Gas Accountability & Protection, educates communities across Ohio. There have been two regional state meetings with landowners who want to know more about their rights and the leasing process. Rietz’ group provides education and works with local officials as well as challenges the state revocation of the rights of local communities to zone for drilling. Recently, the mayor of Athens, Ohio was in attendance and discussed a ban ordinance. Rietz said more communities are claiming their right to protect themselves from contamination. The approach is similar to a strategy in Pennsylvania against factory farming. The focus of bans is to emphasize the local community rights over those of a corporation.

Rietz noted it is an “uphill battle” for residents to get out and inform their neighborhoods about leasing to the industry, but there is a lot of movement in the communities.

“They say it is good for the economy, but where it’s happening [it’s] ‘Hey, we don’t want it,’” said Rietz.

Despite individual concerns about leasing private property to gas and oil companies, Governor Kasich has already overridden such concerns by allowing toxic chemicals onto public grounds and drilling in state parks. In addition to the damage from drilling, the state is already suffering the effects of storing fracking waste shipped in from Pennsylvania. There are multiple reports of manmade earthquakes in areas with injection wells, areas of land that are filled with millions of gallons of toxic fracking waste. Ohioans are already paying the price for their neighbor’s poor decisions.

While the experts evaluate the side effects of chemicals used for modern-day fracking, the stories of illnesses and contamination continue to add up against the industry. Neighbors and concerned citizens are reaching out to educate their communities about the dangers of drilling on their property. The unanswered questions that no one, from Congress to the EPA to the oil and gas companies, will attempt to confront are the real problem. If no one can give the public answers and assurance that safety is the number one concern over profit then there should not be cooperation by citizens to sign away their property and mineral rights.

For further information about state and local oil and gas drilling please visit www.neogap.org and www.greenlink.org. The Greene Environmental Coalition is hosting an information session and ‘Gasland’ screening on Monday, August 15 at 6 p.m. at the Dayton Public Library in downtown Dayton.

Jolene Pohl-Crowell is a dedicated Dayton democrat volunteer/activist and a WSU grad student. Her favorite past-times include banter, debate and laughing out loud. She can be reached at JolenePohlCrowell@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Current Graduate student at Wright State University. I should finish a Master's of Humanities by fall 2012. I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio but my heart belongs with half of my family in New Mexico! "We are only as strong as the weakest link." You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter @DemWSU AND Google+

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