Ohio Fights Back After Becoming the Nation's Fracking Waste Dump
Article updated July 16.
For those living in Ohio, hydraulic fracturing wells aren’t the only cause of concern in the nation’s quest to leave no oil formation un-fracked. The state has been the site of a growing fracking fluid disposal industry that enjoys a steady stream of business from neighboring Pennsylvania.
Ohio is home to 191 fracking fluid disposal wells. Last year, more than 14 million barrels of the toxic waste were injected into the ground in Ohio.
With the focus on the petroleum industry’s use of fracking to extract oil and natural gas, disposal sites have largely flown under the radar. Yet the sites, known as injection wells, are essential to the fracking industry and pose their own set of threats to groundwater supplies and the health of nearby residents.
That’s why residents throughout the state are gearing up for what they’re calling Don’t Frack Ohio 2, a weekend-long conference for concerned residents that will wrap up with a July 29 inter-faith service and rally in the state’s Trumbull County.
“Fracking waste is the dirty secret than no legislator wants to talk about when they’re making promises about the prosperity fracking will supposedly bring to our state,” organizers said in an email sent to supporters.
What is a Disposal Injection Well?
The process of hydraulic fracturing injects a mixture of carcinogenic chemicals, silica sand and water into the ground to break up and access oil deposits, which are then retrieved from the well. While the process allows once-untapped oil to be extracted, it doesn’t make its way to the surface as an untainted product.
The extracted oil is tainted with other naturally occurring materials, including brine, a mixture of silica-laced water containing radioactive organic materials. When the oil is separated from this mixture, companies are left with a wastewater mixture not suitable for above-ground disposal.
This is where the need for injection wells comes into the picture.
In Ohio, injection wells are created from oil and gas wells no longer in use. For the industry, such wells are the answer for fracking fluid wastewater disposal, since the infrastructure for injecting the material “back where it belongs” is already in place.
Yet for those living near abandoned oil wells, that’s cause for concern.
As Nathan Rutz, campaign organizer for environmental organization Ohio Citizens Action, explains, the regulations for acceptable disposal sites are flawed. The underground infrastructure for former oil and gas wells is susceptible to breakdown, creating a potential avenue for the brine to seep into groundwater supplies, he said.
This has residents deeply concerned because contamination of groundwater could lead to a permanent and serious health risk. Because the chemicals used in the fracking process are diverse and often hidden from the public through “trade secret” protections, Ohio residents aren’t entirely sure how great the threats are.
“A lot of people are terrified,” Rutz told Mint Press News.
Based on the history of the industry, there’s cause for concern.
According to a 2012 ProPublica investigation, fountains of contaminated water buried deep below the surface have emerged in Oklahoma and Louisiana in the last four years. In the early 1990s, Florida was considered to have the strictest regulations for injection wells, yet 20 of them malfunctioned, contaminating an aquifer in the southern portion of the state.
According to statistics compiled by ProPublica, inspections on injection wells from 2007 to 2010 revealed that structural integrity violations were issued for one out of every six wells tested.
Rallying for Change, Awareness
The rally and workshop sessions scheduled for the end of July are as much about creating awareness for legislators as they are about protesting the industry.
“The problem is our legislatures don’t know about injection wells and how little we know,” Rutz told Mint Press News.
The event is also about educating people on what the new industry could mean for their neighborhoods and families, which may feel the impact of the fracking industry in their own backyards.
There’s also an issue of policy, as Ohio’s lack of protections has emerged as a major factor for the growing industry.
“Since our neighboring states are much more stringent with their waste disposal standards, Ohio has become the designated regional dumping ground for fracking waste. It’s time to tell our policymakers that big oil and gas corporations should be cleaning up their own messes, not dumping it in our backyards,” organizers said in an email about the July 29 rally.
While the focus this time around will primarily be on injection wells, Ohio residents are also busy battling against oil extraction. The state is a prime target for oil drilling because it sits atop the Utica and Marcellus shale formations.
As of May, 100 drilling wells were in operation in Ohio, according to the Department of Natural Resources. And it doesn’t look like things will slow down anytime soon. Nearly 700 permits have been given out, with more than 330 wells drilled.
The creation of drilling wells in the state feeds the cycle, creating an even greater need for injection wells and leaving area residents fighting an entire industry that feeds off itself.
Residents rallying against the industry could be facing an uphill battle. The state’s governor has repeatedly rolled out the red carpet for oil companies looking at Ohio for fracking and disposal possibilities.
In June, Kasich signed new oil drilling rules for the state that sought to tax oil companies and monitor water supply usage. While controversial among members of his own political party, the rules were largely seen by Ohio residents as a nod to the industry and an attempt to ensure the public the industry is being monitored.
Kasich is a known supporter of the oil industry, having received more than $213,000 in political contributions from the industry, according to a TruthOut report. He’s not alone. From 2001 to 2011, fracking companies contributed $2.8 million to Ohio candidates.
Ohio’s congressional representatives haven’t escaped the fracking cash rush, either. According to Common Cause, $600,000 was spent by the oil and gas industry in contributions to the state’s members of Congress.
The top recipient? Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who, as of 2011, had received $186,900.
Despite the fight against big money, residents of Ohio still hold the power in terms of electing officials to act in their best interest. The fight against the fracking industry, both in terms of injection sites and oil drilling sites, is not political. The rally expected July 29 will draw those who are not united by a political ideology, but by a desire to keep their land safe and their families healthy.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW: Whose responsibility should it be to treat contaminated radioactive wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations? Should it be injected into the ground or mixed with cement to be sent to our landfills as solid waste? If neither, what do we do with it now that the industry has already produced millions of gallons of wastewater waiting to be disposed of?
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By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
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It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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