By: Clay Graham
Last Monday night, four friends and I ventured to the Ravenna High School to attend the Portage County Tea Party’s meeting on natural gas drilling, arguing for the“benefits” of leasing property to gas companies. As we pulled into the school parking lot we were shocked at the amount of people in attendance, a total of 525 portage county-ites braved the cold and ice to attend the meeting. Giving cold shoulders to petitioners, and leaflet distributors, we sat down in the midst of an aging crowd and prepared ourselves for what was about to ensue.
After watching the gyrations and pronouncements of Tea Party leader Tom Zawistowski, wearing a button down shirt emblazoned with a flag and the constitution, Rhonda Reda, Executive Director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program unleashed a veritable shit storm of lies upon the attendees. Discussing the history of oil drilling in Ohio, and how crude oil is used in manufacturing cosmetics and other products, the process of horizontal drilling was discussed. Chincy videos of drill bits piercing the earth’s crust appeared on the projector screen, to which Rhonda replied that the drilling is so deep that none of the methane can escape to the surface except for via the pipe that had been laid. Other contentious fallacies that were told included, you can’t drink methane (this is the dumbest thing I have ever heard… think bloating after drinking soda), only three or four chemicals are used in the drilling process with mostly 99.5 % of the drilling containing water and sand, no one has ever been harmed by drilling, and the Halliburton loophole does not exist. The mockery continued by her describing Gasland as being propaganda and she made fun of Anti- drilling activists by laughing at how anti drilling activist inaccurately call hydrofracking, “fracking” ( does it matter?), and at activists placing bumper stickers on her car. After hearing that Reda loves to use gas wells on school property as teaching tools, reveling at when students are amazed that there is no odor or sight of gas (volatile organic compounds are odorless and transparent, you need a infrared camera to see them) I left the room to catch my breath and call my brother to assemble talking points.
The rest of the meeting was lackluster. The permitting process was discussed, after which David Beck gave a short spiel on his small town gas company (which has had over 50 environmental fines since 2000), and a geologist discussed the Utica and Marcellus Shale. At the end of the meeting, with no public commentary or questions, but questions taken on an individual basis, my friends and I approached Rhonda Reda to help clarify some things. My friend walked up to her and shouted about why she lied about the chemicals used, and berated her for not answering his question. Reassuring the sheriff nearby that we were only asking questions, I asked Reda why a nurse in Colorado after coming in contact with a drill worker covered in drilling fluid in the ICU, was then committed to the ICU for thirty hours and almost died of organ failure.
She quipped that that may be the case, but to show her where in Ohio that has happened. How can I show her in Ohio where that has happened, when horizontal drilling is relatively recent (only fourty wells have been drilled in Ohio, while eight have been drilled in the Utica) especially at the depths they are drilling at? I continued to ask her why she called the Halliburton loophole, the Cheney and Obama loophole (faulty argument on my part) and then I walked out. While on the way out Tom Zawistowski asked me what I thought of the meeting. I told him that I thought the meeting was inaccurate, represented corporate interests, and that I was concerned for my fellow citizens health and property values. Tom asked me where were the health reports, and I told him that most lease holders unknowingly sign nondiclosures and that thousands of people have had water tanks installed at their houses, but have been unable to talk about the ramifications of drilling for fear of legal retribution. I also discussed how it’s coincidental that the natural gas hydrofracking permeated Ohio at the height of the recession. Tom diatribed on how he told John Kasich that by the end of the year he wants to drive a converted car running on natural gas, and how Cleveland, Youngstown, and Akron have been denigrated by the fact that we have no leaders ( but really we’ve had a brain drain, and industry dynamics have changed). Seeing my moment, I told Tom that a true leader would allow for open discussion between an audience and the panel to understand the general concerns of the audience, and a leader would offer counter arguments to best inform their constituents, and plugged that there would be a counter meeting on natural gas on the 15th and for him to tell his members. We shook hands and I left.
The experience was both shocking as well as a little eye opening. I was versed in the fact that industry representatives force you personally to find out data or anecdotes, which leads to semantics and futile arguments, and further places a supreme importance on understanding common arguments, and how to counteract them. I also reveled at how pissed they were at Gasland, which means that the film must have some merit and truth. While leaving I talked to an older man about drilling issues, and he discussed how he wished he had never leased his land fourty years ago, and the meeting was fronted by corporate liasons. I never expected to hear this from a tea party member, and it was refreshing to hear that my concerns were also concerns of tea party members. The truth is, this is not a political issue, but rather a social and moral issue. I only hope that the tea party members that attended that night, members of my community, don’t have to bear the burden of health degradation or property devaluation due to hydrofracking.
P.S. Yesterday I attended the OEPA meeting in Ashtabula discussing permits for First Energy and other Ashtabula companies to release mercury into Lake Erie. I was the only person that testified, and the meeting quickly ended after a half hour. Topics I discussed included mercury’s effect on mothers, Lake Erie’s fragile ecosystem, our dependence on dirty coal, and how First Energy needs to be leaders, and not luddites by prolonging coal proliferation.
Afterwards a reporter came up to me and asked where I was from, and who I was representing (OSEC of course!). I told him that I had an issue with mercury emissions from the coal plant, and that we wanted to place an emphasis on how First Energy needs to transition away from a dirty energy practices. I also managed to plug this quote, “ I think it’s hilarious and ironic that John Kasich is concerned about fish hatcheries from wind development, when we know that mercury affects everything from invertebrates to fish, to humans. It’s almost like the fish are his constituents”. Damn! it’s nice to feel witty, tenacious, and young!