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Op-ed: A caring and benevolent industry? Hardly

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel publishes a piece every week from Greg Kozera, director of marketing and sales for Shale Crescent USA. Shale Crescent USA is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization dedicated to oil and gas and petrochemical expansion in the Ohio River Valley around the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Mr. Kozera’s byline says he is a professional engineer with a master’s in environmental engineering and 40 years of experience in the energy industry. That’s great! That background should lead to more to offer than just oil and gas public relations.

Usually, Mr. Kozera’s pieces are fairly benign and hard to disagree with; that’s part of public relations. This past week, though, in the March 7 edition of the News and Sentinel, Mr. Kozera got downright insulting.

“Whenever there was a public hearing on an oil and gas issue,” Kozera said, “the ‘antis’ would show up in force. One of their standard lines was, ‘It’s all about the money.’ I would laugh because they had no clue. Oil and gas is not alone, the petrochemical and manufacturing industries are similar in their concern for people and communities.”

Is that so, Mr. Kozera? That’s interesting.

As I write this, a bill is advancing in the West Virginia Legislature’s House of Delegates that would, to quote from the Charleston Gazette, “remove tanks containing 210 barrels or less of ‘brine water or other fluids produced in connection with hydrocarbon production activities’ in zones of critical concern from regulation under the Aboveground Storage Tank Act.” Zones of critical concern are defined by the WVDHHR as areas for a public surface water supply that are comprised of a corridor along streams within a watershed that warrant more detailed scrutiny due to their proximity to the surface water intake and the intake’s susceptibility to potential contaminants within that corridor. The Aboveground Storage Tank Act requires registration and certified inspection of such tanks as well as submittal of spill prevention response plans, but industry doesn’t want to continue complying for many tanks.

According to the 7th Edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking, a fully referenced 475-page compilation provided by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, “the 2005 Energy Policy Act exempts hydraulic fracturing from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, fracking chemicals have been protected from public scrutiny as “trade secrets.” Companies are not compelled to fully disclose the identity of chemicals used in fracking fluid, their quantities, or their fate once injected underground. Of the more than 1,000 chemicals that are confirmed ingredients in fracking fluid, an estimated 100 are known endocrine disruptors, acting as reproductive and developmental toxicants, and at least 48 are potentially carcinogenic.

Adding to this mix are heavy metals, radioactive elements, brine, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which occur naturally in deep geological formations and which can be carried up from the fracking zone with the flowback fluid. A 2020 study identified 1,198 chemicals in oil and gas wastewater, of which 86 percent lack toxicity data sufficient to complete a risk assessment.” The oil and gas industry doesn’t appear to see a problem here.

The WV Legislature is also considering water quality standards updates for West Virginia. In 2015, the U.S. EPA recommended 94 water quality standards updates, including on some standards that have not been updated since the 1980s. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection decided to update 56 of these standards. When the matter came to the WV Legislature, industry stepped in and essentially said that West Virginians are fat and we don’t eat our fish, so we can handle more toxins. The can got kicked down the road and now the legislature is only considering 24 water quality standards updates and is seeking to weaken 13 of those, including for a contaminant that massively poisoned the water of Paden City.

The climate crisis rages, plastics pollution contaminates every part of the globe (and our bodies), and we can’t get industry to clean up its messes (see Preston County and the Cheat River, orphaned oil and gas wells, and Minden, W.Va., as examples). If this is communal caring and concern, I’d hate to see Mr. Kozera’s definitions of neglect and malevolence.

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Eric Engle is Chairman of the not-for-profit volunteer organization Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Board Member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Co-Chairman of the Sierra Club of West Virginia Chapter’s Executive Committee.

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