By Elise Franco
Members of the public pleaded with and demanded that the Mill Creek MetroParks board of commissioners deny oil and gas drilling rights on park land.
Tuesday night’s public forum at Fellows Riverside Gardens was the first of two the MetroParks will have to gather information and gauge county residents’ response to the possibility of drilling on park land. The second forum will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 25 at the MetroParks Farm in Canfield, where the Guardians of Mill Creek Park will discuss their opposition to drilling in the park.
The meeting kicked off with an hourlong session from Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Program. Reda explained the drilling process, as well as the extraction process — commonly known as hydraulic fracturing.
She said that “techniques have changed significantly,” and drill bits with multiple casing layers are used to protect the top layers of ground-water from contamination.
“I don’t want oil and gas in my water, neither does anybody else, so we have to take care to protect [the water],” she said. “If we truly want to be less dependents on outside energy sources, every community that consumes energy should produce it.”
About 150 county residents attended the meeting, and while some said they appreciated Reda’s presentation but need more information on drilling, most want to put the issue to bed.
Linda Kovachik, one of about 20 people who spoke during the forum, said she’s concerned that drilling inside the park will result in more earthquakes like the ones the Mahoning Valley experienced on New Year’s Eve 2011.
“I wonder with all this well-digging, how damaging will it be to the Mill Creek MetroParks,” she said. “I’m not against this, but I am here to get an education because I’m worried about the water, the gas and our property.”
Glen Garwig said the board needs to listen to the public, who have a vested interest in the park, and not the oil and gas industry, which has an interest in profits.
“These people in attendance represent a small number of the people in this community who love the park,” he said. “Don’t let it be seized by people who don’t care.”
Miller said the park currently has about 1,500 acres on which they could decide to lease mineral rights. He said these public hearings are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the fact finding the board has done and will continue to do.
“We wanted the board to have the opportunity to hear both sides and weigh what’s best for the MetroParks,” he said. “A decision needs to be made eventually, but there’s no timetable on it.”