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Ohio Woman Fights Natural Gas Industry After Illness Caused by Drilling

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Ohio Woman Fights Natural Gas Industry After Illness Caused by Drilling

People’s Oil & Gas Collaborative-Ohio

by Kari Matsko

Kari Matsko launched People's Oil & Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a group that educates people about the dangers of fracking, after dealing with illness caused by drilling in her community.

As a landowner in the Marcellus and Utica shale in Ohio, I was introduced to the hazards of gas exploration in July 2006. After several days of debilitating headaches, I awoke one morning unable to move my head due to piercing pain on both sides of my neck.

I was in tears just attempting to do simple things such as get up from sitting or lying down. I was dizzy and had ringing in my ears. These symptoms lasted for months. I went to numerous doctors who found muscle spasms via x-ray but yet no diagnosis. I was in my early 30s and never had such an illness before or since then.

Unbeknownst to me, drilling was taking place about 2,500 feet from my property that week in July. I was at home day and night with the windows open during this time. I remember walking around my yard noticing an abnormal number of dead birds and moles. Signs had popped up around town for missing pets. I also saw a vehicle from the local department of health in the driveway of a home about 1,000 feet from my house.

That evening I saw neighbors on the local news stating that they evacuated their home in the middle of the night due to rotten egg fumes waking them up and sickening their children to the point they were immediately taken to the hospital. This was the same date my symptoms started. The health district and doctors' reports of the incident stated exposure to the potentially toxic hydrogen sulfide as the likely cause. Documents also noted the drilling company was ‘dry drilling’ and that they had no employees who knew how to drill using fluid which was recommended to suppress such gas escapes. I wondered how such an industry could be permissible in this proximity to homes, why no notification was given prior to it taking place and most of all why no one was evacuated.

While my symptoms eventually subsided and I hope no long term damage occurred, it was 2007 when I observed more of my neighbors clearing away sites to install oil and gas wells. I wondered why any government agency would continue to approve such reckless locations. As I researched I found that in Ohio our law was changed in 2004 to stop localities from putting health and safety measures in place around oil and gas via zoning. I also learned that the type of drill sites nearby me required injection of chemicals in order to be successful and that many were known environmental triggers for cancer and autoimmune disease.

In fact, my mom has such a diagnosis as a result of being exposed to similar petrochemical fumes. When I found that essentially no government agency had the jurisdiction to protect public health and safety due to exemptions granted to the oil and gas industry, I figured it was my civic duty to advise the community. I wrote a letter to the editor for the first time in my life in response to reading that a town nearby was considering allowing drilling on city land in close proximity to residences.

As a result of the letter to the editor, I heard from citizens around the state of Ohio with a wide range of stories dealing with irresponsible practices. Less than two months later, a home 900 feet away from a recently fractured gas well exploded in the middle of the night in my area. While the elderly couple that lived in the home survived, their house and others up to 4,700 feet away from the drill site had contaminated water wells and explosive levels of gas in their homes.

Local officials and state lawmakers directed affected citizens to me since they said their hands were tied due to the Ohio law. I had inadvertently started a grassroots movement that shared my firsthand experience and research from the past year. Together we were able to educate thousands of people about the hazards of fracking and improve Ohio’s law.

By joining together nationally, we too can reach thousands more and close federal industry loopholes to put public health and safety, and water, air and property rights above industry profits. Join us in Washington, D.C., from July 25 to July 28 to tell Congress and the Obama administration to Stop the Frack Attack!

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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With six years experience in oil and gas consulting and grassroots leadership Kari Matsko was selected as the Ohio environmental and public interest review team member for the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER) Ohio Hydraulic Fracturing State Review in January 2011. In 2012 she was appointed as the National Coordinator for MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media’s ExtrAct suite of internet-based mapping and communication technologies used by communities dealing with oil and gas development. She continues to promote the grassroots mission of public education and regulatory and legal reform via the People’s Oil & Gas Collaborative-Ohio (POGCO).

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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