Ohio: Where Oxymoronic Legislation Proliferates like Fracking Platforms

The following mission statement is taken directly from the website for the Clean Ohio Fund: “The Clean Ohio Fund restores, protects, and connects Ohio’s important natural and urban places by preserving green space and farmland, improving outdoor recreation, and cleaning up brownfields to encourage redevelopment and revitalize communities.”

More specifically, the site delineates the ways in which “the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program helps to fund preservation of open spaces, sensitive ecological areas, and stream corridors.

“Special emphasis has been given to projects that:

“Protect habitat for rare, threatened or endangered species;

“Preserve high quality wetlands and other scarce natural resources;

“Preserve streamside forests, natural stream channels, functioning floodplains, and other natural features of Ohio’s waterways;

“Support comprehensive open space planning;

“Secure easements to protect stream corridors, which may be planted with trees or vegetation to help reduce erosion and fertilizer/pesticide runoff;

“Enhance eco-tourism and economic development related to outdoor recreation in economically challenged areas;

“Provide pedestrian or bicycle passageways between natural areas and preserves;

“Reduce or eliminate nonnative, invasive plant and animal species;

“Provide safe areas for fishing, hunting and trapping in a manner that provides a balanced eco-system.”

GOP legislators have recently proposed to fund “Clean Ohio” by allowing fracking in state parks and state forests and then allocating half of that licensing revenue to the protection and the preservation of the natural beauty of those parks and forests.

So, just in case the absurdity of this is not immediately and completely clear, let me make the point more slowly. The state parks and state forests are now in a fairly pristine condition, and Ohioans would like to keep them that way. So the legislators propose to open those public lands to mining operations that will make them much less pristine but that will generate revenue to restore them, presumably,  to the pristine state in which they existed before the mining occurred.

No one has offered any explanation of how this legislation provides for any sort of progress.

Most probably because it simply doesn’t.

You can’t explain something that makes sense only if you say it so fast that someone only half paying attention comes away thinking that it sounds as if it ought to make sense.

I am not a proponent of fracking. But what I find most disturbing about the proliferation of fracking platforms across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and neighboring states is that most of the fracking is occurring in very economically depressed counties that have never really recovered from the collapse of the deep mining of coal as a major industry.

I was born in northeastern Pennsylvania when the anthracite industry was gasping for air like the multitudes of former miners suffering from “black lung.” When Interstate 81 was constructed between Scranton and Binghampton, New York, the stretch immediately north of Scranton was lined with culm dumps several hundred feet high. During the summer, the coal dust in these massive heaps of coal waste would ignite from the heat of the sunlight and the compression caused by weight of the material, and bands of orange cinders that looked something like lava would smoke and sputter with a terrible sulphurous smell.

In an early form of disaster tourism, people would visit the region to see the “burning mountains.”

Scranton’s four sections were built on mountains surrounding the narrow Lackawanna River valley. Originally, the four sections of the city were collections of small villages that were constructed around mine openings and iron furnaces.

By the time I was growing up, the timbers in the mine shafts beneath much of the city had rotted to the point that the tunnels began collapsing. One night, a stretch of Luzerne Street, with a shopping center on one side and a city park on the other side, suddenly dropped three or four feet—curb to curb, as cleanly as if someone had sawn it free. For a while, the city leaders talked about bringing the street back up to its original height, but they finally settled on simply rounding off the sudden drop at either end of the trough. It remains that way to this day.

But that sort of calamity did lead our well-placed U.S. congressmen to secure about $250 million in grants to wash the culm, dump-truck load by dump-truck load, back into the now inoperative mines in order to prevent further “subsidence.” The dump trucks backed up to the sort of metal containers that are used to haul away construction refuse. The containers sat along the curbs and were positioned over shafts drilled down to the mines. Then water from a nearby fire hydrant would be used to flush the culm down the shaft.

When driving along the expressway that ran along the Roaring Brook, a major tributary of the Lackawanna River, one could see the water running out of the mine openings still visible along the bottom of the cliffs that kept the East Side from sliding into the gorge.

In many parts of the “coal region” and the bituminous field of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, that sort of restoration is still ongoing. And as the cycle of rapacious mining begins again, one wonders how much it is going to cost to clean up the mess this time—and how many times the natural environment can be ravaged in this way and still have the capacity to recover.

Even if the licensing revenue from fracking Ohio’s public lands pays for the damage done on the surface to the state parks and state forests, where is the funding going to come from to repair the damage done much farther below the ground level?

4 thoughts on “Ohio: Where Oxymoronic Legislation Proliferates like Fracking Platforms

  1. Fracking isn’t coal mining. The landscape above ground isn’t harmed nearly as much. Fracking creates jobs. Fracking promotes energy independence and reduces greenhouse gas by shifting from oil and coal to natural gas. (A few years ago the Sierra Club was pro-natural gas for exactly that reason. My supposition is that they have decided to be anti-everything.) Fracking has its problems, but safety and environmental issues are getting better as the big boys enter. It’s a very reasonable position to allow fracking in return for other considerations.

    • Although the visible damage done by fracking is not at all comparable to that done by coal mining, allowing fracking in state parks and state forests will require the construction of roads and the clearing of space for the drilling platforms and ancillary equipment–all of which is destructive of the natural environment ostensibly being protected and preserved.

      But, I will grant that the surface impact of fracking these lands–and fracking in general–may be manageable and perhaps even relatively minor, especially if the point of comparison is coal mining.

      The much bigger issue with fracking is, of course, related to the “proprietary” (that is, closely guarded) but clearly toxic chemical mixtures that are used in the process. Some of the chemicals remain underground, and the rest contaminate the waste water that comes to the surface with the gas. When that waste water is not dumped illegally into streams or elsewhere, it is almost always disposed of in deep-injection wells.

      Because of its geology and its proximity to other states in which fracking is now being done on an ever larger scale, Ohio is on the verge of becoming the largest waste water importer in the world.

      And no one knows–or can yet know–what the effects of doing deep-well injections on such a scale may be.

      Tellingly, even after the most visible scars of the deep mining of coal have been largely erased, the contamination of water welling out of or running through the abandoned mines has remained a persistent and much more difficult to resolve environmental issue.

      Lastly, some of my other posts to this blog have addressed other bills or elements of bills introduced in this session of the Ohio legislature that, taken together, should leave people scratching their heads. Perhaps each bill seems more wrong-headed when all of the bills are taken together. But given that the same group of legislators has been introducing all of these bills, the pattern alone seems to me to warrant a certain skepticism. At least that’s my view, and this blog post is an opinion piece.

      • You’re worried about the unknown. The balance of evidence so far suggests the risks have not been proven or can be mitigated with proper procedures. See Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydraulic_fracturing: “former U.S. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson … has said on at least two occasions that there is either no proven case of direct contamination by the hydraulic fracturing process, or that the EPA has never made a definitive determination of such contamination. State regulators from at least a dozen states have also stated that they have seen no evidence of the hydraulic fracturing process polluting drinking water.” There are definitely risks, and a place for good regulation, but fracking appears to be a better way to meet our energy needs than most of the alternatives. I say proceed cautiously.

        I have no comment on the Ohio legislature. I live in California, where a high tax, NIMBY, anti-business attitude is wearing the state down.

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