Stories from fracking country: Ohioans on the frontline of oil and gas development demand stronger protections for their communities

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Over three million Ohioans live within a half-mile of oil and gas development. In recent years, there have been a number of accidents, including chemicals fires, well blowouts, and spills in our state that have threatened the health and safety of people unfortunate enough to live nearby.

READ: Monroe County frack fire, little progress made, few lessons learned since fracking disaster.

Under Ohio law, oil and gas companies are not required to reveal all of the chemicals they use even if these chemicals spill into our water or burn into our air. The chemical reporting loophole leaves communities in areas with heavy oil and gas activity vulnerable.

Today, affected citizens from different parts of Ohio gathered in the state Capitol to ask decision makers to end this loophole and step up protections for families in fracking country.

“Not requiring fracking companies to disclose trade secret chemicals to those we entrust with our safety, even during a disaster, is just plain irresponsible,” said Melanie Houston, the Ohio Environmental Council’s director of oil and gas. “Oil and gas drilling is a fact of life for many people in Ohio. We must take responsible steps to ensure these communities are safe and protected.”

In the event of a disaster, first responders and drinking water managers need chemical information to understand how to protect the communities they serve. Youngstown Fire Battalion Chief Sil Caggiano underscored the risk the chemical loophole poses for our first responder heroes.

“First responders have a huge responsibility to the public, and they carry this responsibility bravely despite the risks.” Caggiano said. “Decision makers should be striving to make our jobs easier, not putting barriers between us and the information we need to protect ourselves and the public.”

First responders, public health professionals, and environmental advocates bring unique perspectives to the debate on chemical disclosure requirements. Dr. Peggy Berry, a nurse and public health advocate reiterated the threat fracking chemicals can pose to residents when improperly contained.

“As a nurse for over 30 years, with clinical and occupational health experience, I can tell you that protecting public health without the full picture of chemical information is nearly impossible,” she said. “Although we aren’t privy to all of the chemicals fracking companies use, we do know of at least 65 that are hazardous and linked to blood, kidney, heart, and liver damage after prolonged exposure. These chemicals are no laughing matter.”

No one knows these risks more than Ohioans who have first-hand experience living near oil and gas drilling. Hannibal native Rebecca Bowen lived through a massive 2014 frack fire in Monroe County and has since experienced a host of health issues.

“We don’t know what chemicals we were exposed to that lead into all of these health problems. But I do believe that if all of the chemical information been available quickly to firefighters and other responders, then damage to our family and our community could have been kept to a minimum.” Bowen said.

The group of advocates is calling on Ohio lawmakers to amend the state budget to close the chemical reporting loophole.