YOUNGSTOWN - Joining rallies across the nation Wednesday, at least 30 people turned out in Younstown for a protest against fracking.
Keynote speaker Doug Shields, the former Pittsburgh City Council president who led the charge to ban the natural gas drilling process of hydraulic fracturing in that city, told the group that politicians need to stop passing legislation that favors corporations without being fully versed on the subject.
"They say 'I believe this,' and 'I believe that.' Well, you can believe in anything you want, but when you're making public policy, you had ... better know," he said.
Tribune Chronicle / Dan Pompili
Anti-fracking protesters hold signs and gather outside Stambaugh Auditorium in Youngstown Wednesday.
He said he's working with a group seeking a legal injunction to protect people's rights under the 14th Amendment, the equal protection clauses. He said drilling laws heavily favor corporations over citizens.
The rally was hosted by the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Elm Street in Youngstown and included a short film made by the creator of the anti-fracking film "Gas Land."
Organizer Susie Biersdorfer said the ''Freedom from Toxic Fracking Waste National Rally Day'' was the result of social networking. Similar efforts took place in 14 states.
Members of the anti-fracking groups Frack-Free Mahoning, Frack-Free Ohio and Guardians of Mill Creek Park were among those to attend.
Shortly before the rally, Vince Bevacqua, executive vice president of Shalecomm, suggested that the ignorance was on the side of the protesters.
"I understand the public wanting info and questioning the industry, but I think these types of demonstrations reflect a lack of knowledge of the industry,'' Bevacqua said. ''I have yet to see anything that would make me disparage what I think is going to be an extremely powerful economic force in our area.
''Oil and gas is our comeback. This is what's going to bring this area back to prosperity and I just don't see why we need to attack it,'' he said.
Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, said, ''Looking at the facts shows that over the last two years, Utica Shale development has helped attract more than $1 billion in investments and about 1,500 new jobs just in the shale supply chain industries in the Mahoning Valley.
''The facts also show this development has occurred without a single environmental frack-related incident in 2011, and that hydraulic fracturing has been in use in Ohio since the 1940s without incident.
''In the case where there have been problems with brine injection wells, the state has taken steps to shut down wells that appear to have caused problems and instituted new laws to strengthen regulations on injection wells to protect the public,'' Humphries said.
''With this in mind, I think protesting this responsible activity is misguided and a disservice to the many people in our Valley who have obtained jobs or hope to obtain jobs related to shale development,'' he said.
Representatives of the Ohio Oil and Gas Assoc. did not respond to a call seeking comment.
At the rally, Shields said Ohio and Pennsylvania continue to struggle with lawmakers who favor the gas companies over citizens' rights and who refuse to demand full disclosure of the chemicals included in "frack fluid."
Shields said city councils in Pennsylvania have successfully passed bans on fracking that have never been challenged in court. He said this is because the drilling companies do not want to state in open court that citizens' rights are invalid, something he says the companies prefer to let city councils do for them.
The showing of the film ''The Sky is Pink,'' by Josh Fox, included an interview with Shields. The film points out that the American Natural Gas Association hired the same PR firm, Hill and Knowlton, that put on the 1950s "smoking is safe" campaign.
It includes what it claims are leaked industry documents that show a high failure rate of drilling well casings and provides various statistics to buttress the anti-fracking message.
The gist of film is that the gas and oil industry is allegedly putting on a campaign of misinformation in order to combat science. It says that while fracking opponents say the sky is blue, the industry's merely suggesting that "the sky is pink" is enough to create a debate that may discredit the efforts of anti-fracking groups.
The rally participants marched from the church, with signs and blaring car horns, to Stambaugh Auditorium. There, the group gathered on the steps to listen to local historian, author, lawyer and activist Staughton Lynd.
Lynd spoke out against Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone's plans to lease city land to fund blighted housing demolition efforts. He was especially outspoken against the potential drilling under the Mount Hope Veterans Cemetery on the city's east side.
He reviewed the Valley's desperation to find a new industrial savior since the steel mills closed and cautioned that fracking is not it.
Lynd called the group to action and said that stating their opposition is no longer enough. He said they need to explore legal options like using eminent domain to the public benefit. "I'm not sure we've fully explored what that might mean in this situation," he said.