Fracking Poses Risks in Ohio

In their quest to expand in the state, the oil and gas industry in Ohio is quick to say that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is safe and has little impact on the environment. However, some in the state are concerned that Ohio’s gas drilling regulations aren’t strong enough to ensure people there won’t see the same type of water contamination problems that have plagued the industry elsewhere.

Ohio has already seen what can happen when fracking goes bad. In 2007, there was an explosion of a water well and contamination of at least 22 other drinking water wells in Bainbridge Township, near Cleveland, after hydraulic fracturing of a nearby natural gas well owned by Ohio Valley Energy Systems. More than two years later, over forty families are still without clean drinking water and are waiting to be connected to a town water system.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later issued a 153-page report that blamed the nearby gas well’s faulty concrete casing for pushing methane into an aquifer and causing the explosion.

In 2004, the Ohio legislature revoked municipalities’ right to regulate oil and gas wells. Since then, more than 1,000 wells have been drilled in urban and suburban areas, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Some of these wells exist as close as 100 feet from homes, schools, places of worship, libraries, etc.

In July 2009, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Ohio’s laws governing gas drilling were among the most lenient in the nation. Since then the state legislature passed Senate Bill 165, the first comprehensive overhaul of drilling regulations in 25 years. However, critics of the new law, which meets the approval of the oil and gas lobby, complain that it does not do enough to protect public health and the environment.

It is up to states to regulate hydraulic fracturing, thanks to the so-called “Halliburton Loophole.” This loophole, which exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, was included in the 2005 Energy Act. It was pushed by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, once head of Halliburton, a major player in the fracking industry.

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