Face off on fracking

WARREN – More than 250 visitors from around the state attended an anti-hydraulic fracturing rally behind the city’s historic courthouse, talking about possibly dangerous water being pumped into wells around Portage and Columbiana counties and what the future will be like in Trumbull county as more wells are drilled in this area.

Gray-haired hipsters, youthful college students, trailer park residents and children playing with yellow balloons were among those people expressing concerns about the quality of their water and the air around them at gas and injection well sites around the state..

Across Mahoning Avenue, next to Warren’s log cabin, nearly 100 men and some women and children wearing bright orange T-shirts were holding signs with the words “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” written on them is support of drilling.

The crowd of mostly union members and tradesmen mingled with some members of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber and some local politicians argued that the oil and gas industries are helping bring middle income jobs back to a region devastated when the steel industry went into a steep decline.

Back across in courthouse square, the anti-fracking rally emphasized they were not against people working, but questioned how high of a price are people willing to pay for the chance.

“We are trying to make people aware about the dangers of injection wells,” John Williams of Frack Mahoning Valley said.

Williams described both Weathersfield Township trustees and Niles City Council members taking actions against the placement of injection wells in their communities.

“Ohio Department of Natural Resources last weekend approved two injection wells in spite of the actions of their elected leaders,” Williams said. “The wells will be one-and-a-half miles from downtown Niles and 3.7 miles from downtown Warren.”

“We’ve had earthquakes, water contamination, illegal dumping and truckload after truckload of toxic waste coming from other states,” said John Williams , of Youngstown. “When will our lawmakers start protecting the health of their citizens, not the profits of oil and gas companies? It’s time for them to ban injection wells.”

More than half of the waste injected last year came from out-of-state fracking operations.

Sharon Kovach described a well being drilled near her home.

“We were not given any warning about flaring,” she said. “For several days it was happening non-stop.”

The drilling disrupted the ecosystem on the lake at Kovach’s home. “We had beautiful ducks, swans and other animals around the lake. Now they are all gone. I don’t know where they all have gone.”

Mary Greer, a member of Concerned Citizens of Ohio, described the United States as being far behind France, Germany and other countries as far as the development of alternative energy choices.

“We need to develop other energy sources,” Greer said.

Jodi Stoyak, a Liberty Township trustee, says she has been researching the impact of fracking and injection wells for about two years.

“I question if we want these wells near our fresh water supplies,” Stoyak said. “This is not a problem that is concentrated to this area. It is something that communities across Ohio and the United States are talking about.”

While admitting there have been jobs created through this industry, Stoyak says the number of new jobs do not offset the possible environmental damage created through the drilling process and the injection of waste from other states being shipped into Ohio.

Gwen Fischer of Concerned Citizens Ohio says Portage County already has 18 injection wells and last month ODNR provided permits for eight more.

“This is something I can easily see happening in Trumbull County because BP already has the leases to drill on 83,000 acres of land,” Fischer said.

The Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment coordinated the pro-hydraulic fracturing event to represent the perspective of those who support safe drilling for natural gas in the area, and recognize the businesses that support it, and understand the real and positive impact the industry will have on the region.

Picmo Ponzarello, a supporter of the gas drilling industry, says the industry has created hundreds of jobs in Ohio.

“This is Ohio energy creating jobs for Ohio workers,” Ponzarello said. “We are going to see even a bigger change as the industry continues to grow.”

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin added he expects energy companies to boost the local economy with an emphasis on safety.

“It’s not only about jobs in Warren and jobs in Trumbull County and jobs in northeastern Ohio it’s about growth in our economy,” Franklin said. “It’s about the first real economic recovery we’ve experienced in decades.”

Frank Fuda, Trumbull County commissioner, added, “These jobs are great for our community. The Trumbull County commissioners support this 100 percent.”

Butch Tayler of the 396 Plumbers and Pipefitters Union suggests more than 50 percent of the new jobs being created by the oil and gas industry in the Mahoning Valley are going to Ohioans.

“Millions of dollars are being invested in the area,” Taylor said.

Ernie Klein, a welder who is beginning a new job today, says the industry is giving young people opportunities to get good, middle-income jobs to provide for their families.

Jody Stringer of Warren Labor Local 935 says the safety concerns expressed by anti-fracking supporters are overblown.

“BP has gone beyond national standards in teaching us safety measures that will be required for our work,” Stringer said.

Tim Callion of Plumbing and Pipefitters Union 396 says he not only works in the area, but lives here also.

“There is no one more concerned about the safety of the work done here than I am,” he said.

Don Crane, president of the Western Reserve Building Trades Council, added, “Among high-profile construction projects such as Vallourec Star, well-site preparation, pipeline construction and commercial building projects involving growing or relocating companies to our area, the shale industry has been a major source of income and pride for Mahoning Valley organized labor.”