By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer
WARREN: Nearly 7.9 billion gallons of drilling waste have been injected under Ohio since 1978.
This includes 27 million barrels under Portage County, making Portage County No. 1 in Ohio for such wastes, activist Teresa Mills told a crowd of 250 people Monday protesting Ohio injection wells.
Stark County ranks No. 2 with more than 17 million barrels.
About 80 pro-labor demonstrators held their own noisy pro-drilling, pro-injection wells rally across the street from the Courthouse Square in downtown Warren.
The two sides shouted back and forth across the street for a time under the watchful eyes of local police and deputies.
The pro-labor group, clad mostly in orange, circled the park armed with air horns when the other side’s speakers were talking.
Later, the anti-fracking forces drove to an injection well off state Route 5 near Newton Falls to conduct an interdenominational prayer service that attracted about 100 peaceful participants.
Mills, of Columbus, said research shows that Portage County accepted 7,892,815,182 gallons of liquid that are toxic and may contain low levels of radiation in the last 35 years.
The total could actually be higher because there is uncertainty about how accurate the state records were in the early years, said Mills, of the Buckeye Forest Council and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
The Beacon Journal has reported that Portage County in 2012 took in 2,358,371 42-gallon barrels of drilling waste at 15 injection wells. That was the highest total for Ohio counties. Nearly two-thirds of that total came from out of state.
In 2012, Ohio’s 180 active injection wells took in 14.2 million barrels, up from nearly 12.6 million barrels in 2011.
Today, Ohio has 222 permitted injection wells.
The wells have come under fire for earthquakes they may trigger and for being a threat to drinking water. The industry and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources say such wells are safe and the best way to get rid of drilling wastes.
“Portage County is a dumping ground,” said speaker Gwen Fischer, a co-founder of Concerned Citizens Ohio and a retired Hiram College professor, to the anti-fracking crowd.
“If it is as safe as all the ads say, why won’t they allow regular testing of the waste to keep people safe? The reality is that the industry is protected from taking that responsibility,” she said.
The Warren rally was a colorful event with a clown and a person in a tree costume on stilts. Musicians performed songs by Buffalo Springfield and Pete Seeger and original anti-fracking tunes to guitar and banjo.
Protest signs were everywhere, along with pale blue bandannas and red rubber bracelets with Gov. John Kasich’s office telephone number.
One protester sat in a tree for the 75-minute program. Another wore a toilet seat labeled Ohio around her neck. Others wore white protective coveralls with masks.
Lisa DeSantis, 47, of New Castle, Pa., came dressed as a clown, complete with a red nose and red hair. Her sign read: “This clown is glad she doesn’t live in Ohio.”
Alison Auciello of Food and Water Watch led the crowd in several chants expressing unhappiness with Ohio being a dumping ground for such injection wastes.
To date, 46 national, state and local groups have endorsed a proposed ban on injection wells in Ohio, she said.
In fact, what’s happened in Ohio in recent months with eco-groups banding together to fight injection wells is “miraculous,” she said.
The rally’s keynote speaker was Bill McKibben, author and a founder of 350.org, a group fighting global warming.
McKibben’s talk got a heavy dose of air horns from the counterprotesters walking on the sidewalks at the edge of the square.
The counterprotest in Warren was organized by the Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment, along with Energy in Depth-Ohio, a pro-drilling industry group.
The drilling industry is having big impacts on creating jobs in eastern Ohio, said Butch Taylor, 55, of Stow, business manager for Plumber and Pipefitters Local 396.
Four years ago, unemployment was as high as 40 percent in the Warren-Youngstown area and the new drilling is having a big effect on the local economy, he said.
Added Mike Cramer, 54, of Rootstown Township with Local Operating Engineers Local 18 in Akron: “It’s a jobs issue, not a union issue. Ohio will benefit from the shale boom. It’s all about jobs. What’s happening here is real.”
The Portage County Tea Party was not impressed by the anti-fracking group.
“We have been listening to the irrational fearmongering of the ‘regressive’ environmental left here in Ohio, and particularly in Portage County, for nearly three years,” the group said in a statement released by Executive Director Tom Zawistowski.
“Not once have they been able to prove any real danger to humans, animals or the environment from drilling, fracking or injection wells. Their outrageous claims about toxic waste and dumping of chemicals have all proven to be outright lies crafted intentionally to scare uninformed citizens and intimidate politicians.
“They are simply out to stop drilling and energy development regardless of the facts to fulfill some foolish utopian dream that has nothing to do with real life,” he said.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.