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Issue 7: Returning Rights to the People

By Cassie Kelly
By Cassie Kelly
By Cassie Kelly — Athens residents post signs in their yards in support of Issue 7, to ban fracking in city limits.

Banning fracking operations in Athens, OH, has been a major topic of discussion in Athens since late 2011 when the Bill of Rights Committee was formed and a proposal to stop injection wells from being drilled in the county failed. Now, the committee is back with a mission to protect the health and safety of the city by banning fracking within city limits.

Support for Issue 7, to be voted for or against on Nov. 4, has been growing since earlier this year when a new proposal was drafted and presented to Athens City Council. If passed, the new Bill of Rights will prohibit:

  • Corporations from extracting shale gas and oil within city limits.
  • The storage of any waste from oil and gas extraction within city limits.
  • Site infrastructure supporting extraction without permission from the city.
  • The procurement of water for use of extraction within city limits.
  • Corporations from intending to take part in any of these activities; they will not be able to avail themselves of certain legal rights and powers which would enable them to nullify the rights secured by this ordinance.
  • Permits issued to allow corporations to engage in prohibited activities.
Injection well sites in Athens County and surrounding areas.

There are currently four injection wells in operation just outside Athens. The Ginsberg well, the Hahn Paul well, the Atha well and the largest well in Ohio: the K&H Partners LLC injection well.

The K&H well alone is visited by over 50 trucks a day carrying millions of gallons of “brine” from across the country. Brine is a highly toxic and radioactive combination of water, chemicals and oil residue from fracking. If leaked into the fresh water supply, it could potentially turn entire towns into wastelands, destroying all drinking water and contaminating crops.

Those who live around the wells in Athens County fear for their own health. Dorothy Rader, Coolville resident and longtime advocate for people’s rights, lives a couple miles down the road from the Atha well. “It takes every lit bit of faith to oppose these people. They see money, they see dollar signs, and we see danger,” Rader said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Athens County has one of the highest unemployment rates in Ohio and Coolville is one of the poorest areas of Athens County with 18.2 percent of residents living in poverty. Rader believes Coolville is being targeted by the fracking corporations because of the high poverty level.

“We’re just those little, expendable people,” Rader said.

Richard McGinn, Chairman of the Bill of Rights Committee said that when he originally proposed the idea to Athens City Council they weren’t too keen on helping him move forward with the Bill of Rights to ban fracking in city limits. In fact, the Bill of Rights Committee was organized by McGinn and Issue 7 was drafted without any input from the local government.

“It seems like they’ve been in the shadows the whole time,” said Milena Miller, member of the Bill of Rights Committee.

Issue 7 has been a movement by the people to save their local environment and protect their health and safety. But they aren’t the first town to do such a thing. In fact, 160 other communities around the U.S. have developed their own laws against fracking, including the city of Mansfield, Ohio, which formed its own Bill of Rights in 2012. John Spon, Law Director of Mansfield, was convinced it was a good idea when seismic activity in the neighboring town of Youngstown started to occur, which he and others in Mansfield believed was linked to fracking.

By Cassie Kelly  -- Richard McGinn, Chairman of the Athens Bill of Rights Committee
By Cassie Kelly
— Richard McGinn, Chairman of the Athens Bill of Rights Committee

Mansfield’s Bill of Rights specifically insists fracking companies disclose, in writing, how far the company believes the fluid is going to migrate, as well as what they are going to inject into the ground, including chemicals and other toxins. It also requires the proposal to be in affidavit form, confirming under oath that the information they are giving is the truth. Then, the proposal is decided upon by the council, which has the right to veto it if the people and the council agree.

“If they [fracking companies] think the city is just going to sit back and not prosecute them, seek a felony and go after corporate executives then they are dreaming,” Spon said. “They can hire as many attorneys as they want, but there is nothing more important than the voice of this people.”

Spon said there are instances of these companies stepping out of line without any federal punishment. For example, he explained if someone’s home is damaged or their water is contaminated because of fracking waste, it is very difficult to prove in court.

“If you don’t know what chemicals are put into the ground, how do you know if those chemicals are what’s causing the contamination to the water?” Spon said.

By Cassie Kelly John Spon, Law Director of Mansfield, OH.
By Cassie Kelly
John Spon, Law Director of Mansfield, OH.

For now, Athens has remained untouched by fracking companies within in city limits, and many believe that because Athens has a high residential population, fracking companies would not want to drill here. However, the situation in Broadview Heights, Ohio show Athens may not be as undesirable as the people think.

Broadview Heights has 90 extraction wells, or wells that take oil out of the ground, in a 13-mile radius between houses and within 100 feet of playgrounds and schools. In 2012, the people of Broadview Heights took a stand and passed their own Bill of Rights, prohibiting all new fracking operations. Trish O’Dell, Broadview Heights environmental advocate and co-founder of Mothers Against Drilling in Our Neighborhoods, said they are experiencing a lawsuit from two fracking companies, Bass Energy Inc. and Ohio Valley Energy Systems Corp., which both believe the city’s Bill of Rights is invalid.

“Our Bill of Rights is our right to life,” O’Dell said. “Do we want to wait until we are destroyed or do we want to try to stop it?”

The Athens Bill of Rights mirrors both Broadview Heights’ and Mansfield’s laws, and many Athens residents are in support of it. With Election Day just around the corner, hopes are high among the Bill of Rights Committee and other members of Athens. McGinn said he has not seen or heard of any opposition toward Issue 7 since it was started.

“We live in a university town of about twenty thousand students. We have a number of important businesses. We depend on food from the farmers’ market agriculture. We have a strong arts community. And we have numerous activities and energy companies that are building here. All of this is what we are working so hard to protect,” McGinn said.

If passed, Issue 7 will be put into effect immediately, banning fracking operations of any kind without permission from the city. Athens could one day be threatened by law suits and other opposition like Broadview Heights, but McGinn believes the city will stand with the people and fight.

“We are very serious about this and we plan to have a real future with pursuing the Bill of Rights for our community,” Miller said.

Cassie is quite the busy bee. She is a junior in the E.W. Scripps school of Journalism and has plans to get the environmental studies certificate, before she graduates. She is the Vice President of the Society of Professional Journalists, works two jobs on campus and is a full time student…

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