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New coalition forms in response to oil and gas activities

Bill Baker, an organizer for Frack Free Ohio, speaks at a recent press conference regarding a new grassroots organization that has just begun to take shape, the Tri-County Landowners Coalition.

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For residents of Holmes, Ashland and Richland counties who are concerned about fracking and wastewater injection in their neck of the woods, a new grassroots organization has just begun to take shape, one that opposes Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation’s efforts to drill horizontal wells in these counties. This is the Tri-County Landowners Coalition, which recently held its inaugural meeting at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library.
 
According to Bill Baker, an organizer for Frack Free Ohio, this new coalition is made up of several local groups of concerned citizens.
 
“The individual groups are meeting, and they’re doing on-the-ground campaign work to stop Cabot Oil from leasing land,” Baker said. “As grassroots groups, and some of them have a minimal number of members, they feel overwhelmed with a lot of the work directly in front of them in the local arena, so my role now, after having helped them get established and giving them training on canvassing, will be to help them organize larger events where we bring the public in and educate them on both sides of this issue.”
 
So far at least four local grassroots groups have joined the Tri-County Landowners Coalition. These include the Hayesville Community on Fracked Gas of Ashland County, the Clear Fork Landowners Group of the Clear Fork Valley, Advocates for Local Land of Ashland and Western Holmes County, and the Monroe Township Landowners Coalition of Richland County.
 
This enterprising new organization has a wide range of goals in mind and numerous ways for people to get involved.
 
“The first level of the campaign right now is the door-to-door gathering and small-community sessions to preview or watch a Monroe Landowners presentation that was done in December,” Baker said.
 
The presentation that he refers to was created by a local landowner in regards to his concerns about the dangers of drilling.
 
“That being said, as we move outward, we intend to engage township trustees,” Baker said. “Many times their hands are bound by state and federal law, but there may be road-use management agreements that they can pursue. This is called RUMA, and we’re going to put together a package to help educate the trustees on the RUMA and help protect their township roads.”
 
Baker said they plan to address this issue beyond the trustees. “We do intend to engage legislators from the trustee at the township level all the way up to the state and maybe even the federal level,” he said. “Start at the local level and see how the trustees feel. If they would like to do something but they are bound by the county, then we’ll go to the county commissioner and from there to the state legislators.”
 
Beyond engaging local and state legislators, the Tri-County Landowners Coalition has other goals in mind. “The three steps to activism, in my mind, are education, legislation and then direct action if it is needed,” Baker said.
 
From an educational standpoint, this means the coalition wants to make both landowners and local legislators aware of the dangers of fracking and wastewater disposal so they are able to make informed decisions.
 
Legislation could be anything from RUMA to local resolutions or even larger bills such as the Environmental Bill of Rights, which was passed by a two-thirds majority of voters in Mansfield in 2012, prohibiting waste disposal in Mansfield, or Senate Bill 50, a recently introduced state bill that would prohibit fracking waste disposal via the injection method. Similarly direct action can take many forms: community organizing and educating all the way up to larger public events centered around this issue.
 
“A big part of this initiative is to just try to empower landowners so that they feel like they do have some control over their properties,” Baker said. “And it may not always be specific to the geographic boundaries, the townships and the counties that they live in. They may have to pull together as a community to see what kind of effort they can put forth to stop this type of extraction.”
 
Of Richland County, Baker said, “What we’re finding out is that the majority of folks, at least in Richland, that we’ve surveyed, they don’t want this. They’re not comfortable with the process, they don’t think the money is worth it and I certainly would not want them to suffer the truck traffic, the change in the scenery and everything that comes along with this type of extraction when the majority isn’t for it.”
 
So what are the primary dangers of fracking in the view of the Tri-County Landowners Coalition? There are many, but one of the big concerns is the waste that this process produces.
 
“The waste stream is an extreme risk to every community, and the fact that the full nature of the chemical mixture isn’t disclosed makes it that much worse because this waste is traveling in large volumes up and down the roads and by rail train,” Baker said. “When it spills and compromises a water system, first responders aren’t aware of what chemicals are in it because it’s called brine, which is an incorrect classification.”
 
Baker also described another one of the group's problems with fracking. “The other side of the coin is that I’m very concerned about local control and constitutional rights that are extended to property owners for the peaceful enjoyment of home. Inalienable rights are a real thing in the Constitution, and it seems that legal rights are sometimes given precedence.”
 
Another issue is that oil and gas companies sometimes use aggressive tactics to get landowners to sign leases.
 
“Their strategy has been to show up with at least two land men and sometimes a notary public,” Baker said. “They show up in people’s homes, and they tell [the landowners] that they need to sign in a hurry to get the bonuses. They tell the landowners that their neighbors have already signed, and so if they don’t sign, they’ll be unitized against their will and they won’t receive the money that their neighbors are getting.”
 
And yet, as the coalition showed via a map of collected data in Monroe Township of Richland County that was presented at their recent meeting, most landowners approached by land acquisition company Western Land Services had declined to sign the leases presented to them.
 
For concerned residents seeking more information or who would like to get involved in the Tri-County Landowners Coalition, Baker recommends you start with the local groups that make up the coalition itself.
 
The Hayesville Community on Fracked Gas can be reached by emailing friendsforenvironmentaljustice@gmail.com, Clear Fork Landowners Group at CFLandowners@gmail.com, Advocates for Local Land at advocates4ll@gmail.com and Monroe Township Landowners Coalition at monroetlc2@gmail.com. Baker can be called at 419-612-4069.
 
Additionally a video of the recent coalition meeting is available on the YouTube channel OccupyEarthUSA, and there is a Facebook page and group, Frack Free Ohio, which is devoted to updating Ohioans with more information about fracking and fracking activity throughout the state.
 

Published: February 12, 2018
New Article ID: 2018180209946