Press Release

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Who: 400 Ohioans, Ohio Organizing Collaborative, and Ohio Environmental Council

Melanie Houston, December 18, 2014

What: Helped defeat HB 490, which would have put first responders at risk

A coalition of environmental organizations, community organizing groups and concerned citizens including health professionals and first responders mobilized to help defeat HB 490, killing it in the Ohio Senate Agriculture Committee before it could move to the floor for a vote.

Hundreds of Ohioans expressed their displeasure with the bill which would have taken chemical information for oil and gas operations out of the hands of local first responders – and placed it in the hands of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“The fact that so many people responded in defense of first responders and community members shows how displeased people were when they learned what HB 490 would actually do,” said CURE organizer Caitlin Johnson. “Ohioans want more transparency around fracking.”

Community members and first responders submitted both written and oral testimony to the Ohio Senate Agriculture Committee.

Kelley Stewart’s home was evacuated during the June chemical fire at a Statoil well pad being fractured by Hallibuton in Monroe County. Kelley shared with the committee that, “When we went back to our house – 700 feet away from the disaster – we had no idea what we were exposed to.  The fracking company Haliburton didn’t get chemical trade secret information to our county EMA until days after the incident. The Material Safety Data Sheets that would have provided crucial information for the first responders were kept onsite and burned up in the blaze.”

HB 490 would have rolled back some important reforms around chemical disclosure.

In 2013, after a citizen petition, the United States EPA reaffirmed that, just like every other industry, Ohio oil and gas drillers must report hazardous chemicals used or stored at fracking wells to the State Emergency Response Commission to meet the requirements of the federal Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act. This ruling reinstated reporting that had stopped 12 years earlier, when oil and gas friendly interests carved out a special exemption for the industry as one of many provisions buried in the 2001 budget bill.

Yet language in HB 490 would again put Ohio communities and first responders at risk. HB 490 allows drillers to once more bypass local emergency planners and fire departments when it comes to chemical inventory reporting. Instead, under the bill, the ODNR oil and gas chief would compile information supplied by the drillers and determine what the public and first responders are allowed to see. ODNR is not a first response agency and, by serving as a conduit, could slow down the transmission of crucial information in time-sensitive emergency situations, as was the case at the Monroe County fracking fire site.

“I am concerned about EMS paramedics and drivers who may unknowingly be exposed to chemicals,” nurse Peggy Berry said in testimony before the Senate committee. “I am concerned about the Emergency Room nurses who may unknowingly be exposed to chemicals while caring for injured employees or first responders. Without prior knowledge of the chemicals stored on site, first responders are placed at risk for chemical exposure by not knowing what is stored on site.”

HB 490 would have stripped first responding agencies of the ability to do their jobs while simultaneously empowering ODNR, an agency with a marred track record of sharing chemical information during oil and gas emergencies.  The agency’s ability to be an honest broker of this information is also in question, given that ODNR has been deeply sympathetic to oil and gas industry interests, even going so far as to create enemies lists of those who oppose or are critical of expanded horizontal drilling in Ohio.

“HB 490 contained more bad than good,” said Melanie Houston, Environmental Health Director for the Ohio Environmental Council.  “It would have allowed the oil and gas industry a special exemption from chemical inventory reporting. We are relieved that the bad provisions died. We will renew our fight in the new legislature that stats in January for the protection of first responders, drinking water, and the public from dangerous fracking chemicals and inadequate disclosure.”