Fracking ban is unlikely, reps say

By Karl Henkel

Three local state representatives say anti-fracking legislation isn’t expected to move through either the state House or Senate and say moratoriums on drilling — at this point — are unnecessary.

State Reps. Ron Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, Sean O’Brien of Brookfield, D-65th, and Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th, all told The Vindicator that environmental risks of fracking need to be balanced with potential economic positives, most notably thousands of new jobs and billions pumped into the state economy.

Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

This week, state Reps. Denise Driehaus of West Point Hill and Tracy Maxwell Heard of Columbus, sponsored a bill to halt fracking and comparable legislation was introduced last month by Sen. Mike Skindell of Lakewood, D-23rd.

The House bill would establish a moratorium on fracking until the Environmental Protection Agency publishes a study about the effects of fracking and the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management issues a report regarding the state’s regulatory procedures.

The three local representatives don’t think either bill will gain steam among their legislative peers.

“I don’t think they’re going anywhere,” Gerberry said. “I understand the significance and importance of this issue.

“If we have legislators who think they are going to pass legislation, it’s going to have to be legislation that’s balanced.”

Gerberry said he opposes “stopping the progress,” especially with multimillion-dollar economic investments already made by companies such as V&M Star.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. has already spent $2 billion on more than 1 million acres of land in the Utica Shale, which spans much of central and eastern Ohio. The company has already reported that four wells are producing natural oil and gas.

Despite these investments, many are still worried about the environmental impacts of shale drilling, most notably fracking, a holdup Letson shook off.

“Fracking has been around for 80 years,” he said. “The difference between what happened with fracking 80 years ago and today is that today, we’re talking about going deep, miles deep.”

“The likelihood of anything from a mile below our water table entering our water table is probably a little longer than the odds of me winning the lottery today.”

O’Brien said he doesn’t dispute that negative environmental effects are capable of happening, but that a few bad instances can’t hold up an already billion-dollar business in Ohio.

“Will there be accidents?” he said. “I’m sure something is going to happen. But they’re being as responsible as any other industry and I don’t think a moratorium at this time is the correct way to go.”

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