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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District anything but a conservancy

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District includes parts or the entirety of 27 Ohio counties. All of these counties have seen some impact from oil and gas development. However, the counties of Carroll, Harrison, Belmont, Noble, and Guernsey have been significantly impacted.

Citizens living near oil and gas activities have expressed concerns about drilling operations which include: the chemicals/additives used to drill/frack, the radionuclides brought up to the surface in produced water, increased radon gas levels in homes, drilling in ecologically sensitive areas, contamination from spills, leaks, blowouts, and deliberate releases, and subsurface migration of contaminants among aquifers.

Yet, a recent announcement stated that the MWCD signed a lease agreement with Encino Energy to frack 7,300 acres of property at Tappan Lake in Harrison County. The MWCD has a long history with oil and gas extraction, leasing thousands of acres for Utica shale drilling and selling water from MWCD lakes to be used by drillers for fracking. It was once stated that the MWCD is the “number 1 beneficiary of drilling in Ohio.”

Gordon Maupin, the president of the MWCD board of directors, said this recent lease agreement reflects “our desire to renew and increase our focus on improving the watershed and water quality and protecting our resource by requiring enhanced environmental protections.” Those “enhanced environmental protections” Maupin speaks of are superficial at best and include walls to block noise and visuals, some water testing and erosion protection.

It is impossible to protect land, air and water from the pollution of fracking since this industry is basically exempt from all major federal environmental laws and regulations such as: Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to Know Act.

Workers and nearby residents can be exposed to air contaminants like nitrogen oxides, benzene, ozone, toluene, methane, and fine particulate matter during the fracking process. Run-off of toxic compounds from the well pads can enter Tappan Lake, the drinking water source for Cadiz, Ohio. Should the lake become impaired, where will Cadiz get its water supply?

The U.S. EPA and Department of Energy said that an average of seven million gallons of water and over 70,000 gallons of chemicals are used for each well fracked. Over 80% of these compounds have never been reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Many of those reviewed are known carcinogens and hormone blockers.

Accidents happen. The XTO Energy well blowout in Belmont County in February 2018 spewed out 120 tons of methane an hour for twenty days. Methane is 84 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

You cannot be a good steward of the land and ignore all the externalities visited on the landscape from fracking. I live on Tappan Lake and have seen the effects of fracking in the county. Pipelines crisscross the forested hills, fracking trucks congest the rural roadways, water is being withdrawn from local creeks, and even the night skies are obliterated by fracking flares.

The recent storms across the country and especially in Ohio are more proof that the climate is changing and severe weather will soon be the new norm. Still, politicians and the oil and gas industry continue to cling to the very fuel that is driving this climate crisis.

How can the MWCD justify financing improvements by allowing the fossil fuel industry to destroy the very landscape they (MWCD) are supposedly conserving? The definition of conservancy is: a body concerned with the preservation of nature, specific species or natural resources. The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District is anything but a conservancy.

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Randi Pokladnik, Ph.D., of Uhrichsville, is a retired research chemist who volunteers with Mid Ohio Valley Climate Action. She has a doctorate degree in Environmental Studies and is certified in Hazardous Materials Regulations.

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