This is an editorial by John that appeared in the Star Beacon on March 3.
Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been the subject of much interest as evidenced by the various articles in the Star Beacon and recent statements by the governor and attorney general. Certainly, our society encourages venture capitalism and innovation (which have resulted in prosperity), but we must pursue this course in balance with responsible environmental stewardship and consumer protectionism. Given this balance, there are many issues which must still be addressed with respect to fracking.
First, leases must be negotiated in a fair and equitable manner. Second, comprehensive baseline water assessments for both quality and quantity -- more exhaustive than current practice -- should be completed prior to any drilling to better ensure protection for homeowners. Third, current law has stripped local authorities of much needed oversight (see HB 278/2004). There must be shared responsibility between the state and local governments to effectively oversee the drilling process. Fourth, increased "setbacks" (i.e., the distance from the wellhead to dwellings) must be required to insure the health and safety of citizens. Fifth, impact fees must be significant enough to remedy infrastructure damage to roads and bridges -- let alone redress potential environmental destruction to properties. Finally, we must develop a method to recycle water that has been used in the drilling process. Water, a precious resource, must be recycled rather than injected into the ground after its use.
Governor Kasich has freely admitted that he has not always thought about the impact of his policies. Drilling, economic development, and environmental preservation are so intertwined that serious deliberation with respect to the overall impact of the drilling process must occur first followed by healthy debate and, ultimately, prudent legislation. To date, this has not occurred as it should.
In this void, citizen groups such as the Eastern Ashtabula County Landowners Association are to be commended for tackling the difficult issue of leasing. States such as New York and Pennsylvania have studied in detail the overall impact of the drilling process. The federal government is also undertaking an exhaustive assessment which will be released in 2014. (This effort will address environmental disturbances of injection wells in sensitive seismic areas such as the numerous earthquakes in the Youngstown region.)
Industry representatives, environmental experts, state and local governments, and citizens alike must join together to ensure good environmental stewardship coupled with progressive industrial development. Until such a time, local communities will rely on the governor's hand-picked appointees to administrate the drilling process. Worse yet, many of these decision makers live outside of the affected areas and are not stakeholders in our communities.
We deserve better. We deserve regional and local oversight over activities that impact the safety of our surface water and water wells. We deserve government that seeks to protect the life-sustaining and economic assets of the 99th district with an eye toward economic growth. This balanced approach, coupled with thoughtful debate and legislation, is the course we must follow. To do otherwise is to risk our future and, most importantly, the future of our children for short-term economic gain.