YOUNGSTOWN - A large crowd turned out for an often-contentious hydraulic fracturing seminar Tuesday night at Fellows Riverside Gardens.
The two-hour event centered around the controversial topic of leasing land in Mill Creek Park for additional oil and gas drilling.
Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, opened the session an hourlong PowerPoint presentation covering the history of oil and gas drilling, the process of hydraulic fracturing, and the myths surrounding it.
"Most of these people in this room had no idea how many wells are actually drilled underneath Mill Creek. They didn't even know all of those wells are hydraulically fractured," Reda said.
More than 40 wells are in use at the Mill Creek Park, 25 of which were drilled by a single company, according to Reda.
"The last one was drilled just a couple of years ago," Reda said. "It has also been ongoing around Mill Creek and nobody seemed to know it.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Ashley Newman
Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, gives a public seminar on hydraulic fracturing at Fellows Riverside Gardens on Tuesday.
''So, sometimes when you do a good job, have a very small environmental footprint and you make sure the well blends into the environment, it actually comes back to bite us in a sitting like today. People didn't even know the wells were there."
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process in which chemicals, water and sand are blasted into the rock formation deep below the earth's surface to reach the pockets of natural gas there.
Dr. Raymond Beiersdorfer, professor of geology at Youngstown State University, spoke against fracking.
"It is important that the people in positions of power get to hear these things," Beiersdorfer said. "The biggest frustration I have, moreso with city council but also with trustees, is the willful ignorance that they are showing regarding the environmental and health risks associated with gas drilling and fracking.''
Many in attendance are flatly opposed to leasing of mineral rights in Mill Creek Park.
"I think that they need to realize this is more than their vote, this is their legacy," North Lima resident Patti Gorcheff, 57, said. "This anti-fracking movement is growing every day. In my neighborhood, we are under assault, from planes, seismic trucks, transition lines, injection wells. I'm desperately trying to sell my house. I've got it at rock bottom price and I can't sell it. I've already lost a ton of value in it.''
Others like Youngstown resident Paul Banish came to the seminar with an open mind and in search of information.
"The earthquakes we experienced, I'm not saying it is anyone's fault, but I thought I should just come down and be involved. I have to be more informed," Banish said. "Even when I signed up to speak, I didn't put for or against, because I just don't know enough yet.''
Reda said she believes the term ''fracking'' has become misused by those who oppose the practice. She explained the fracturing portion of oil and gas drilling is just one step in the process.
"It is only one of 75 different steps in this, and there has never been a problem associated with hydraulic fracturing," she said. "But, it is used as a catch-all term today. That way, instead of saying you want to ban oil and gas, they say, 'I don't mind oil and gas, but I just want to ban fracking.' They are really kind of hiding behind the word."
According to Dennis Miller, executive director of the Mill Creek MetroParks, Tuesday's forum was exactly the kind of open dialogue that makes for a healthy decision-making process.
"It is important for everyone to know that no decision has been made," he said. "It was a very informative meeting with a presentation by Rhonda Reda. ... The board got to hear the opinions of the residents, who we serve.''