The growing amount of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking,” being performed in Ohio as part of a booming oil and gas industry is causing a split in opinion among the state’s farmers.Some see the movement as an economic opportunity, while others see the practice as a threat to their livelihoods.
High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing is being heralded as an economic engine in Ohio because it can exploit deeply buried reserves of natural gas and other petroleum products.
Fracking could generate 65,680 jobs and $4.9 billion of investment in Ohio by 2014, according to a 2012 report by researchers at three Ohio universities and sponsored by the Ohio Shale Coalition, a pro-fracking group aimed at maximizing the economic impact of shale-gas production in the state.
Some farmers foresee financial windfalls from leases with oil and gas companies, which according to the economic impact report averaged $2,500 an acre, as well as royalties — continuing income of 15 percent of the value of gas extracted on their properties.
But other farmers see fracking as a threat to their way of life because it injects millions of gallons of water, toxic chemicals and sand deep underground to break apart shale formations and release the gas. These chemicals could put their land off limits for organic farming, which has strict certification standards.
Although the state’s two general farming associations, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Farmers Union, are concerned that fracking could contaminate farming soil and water, neither has a current position on the growing natural gas drilling practice in the state.
“We do not have a stance on hydraulic fracturing,” said Dale Arnold, director of energy services at the Ohio Farm Bureau. But Arnold has traveled the state for years to educate the farm bureau’s 60,000 members about the right things to do and the questions to ask before leasing mineral rights to oil and gas companies.
Last year, the farmers union called for a moratorium on fracking until a long-expected report on the drilling practice by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was published. The union has 5,000 members, many small, family owned farms.
The union backed off its call for a moratorium this year not because the EPA report has been issued — it hasn’t — but because income from oil and gas leases is the only thing keeping some of its members on their family farms, said Ron Sylvester, external relations director.
“We are realizing the inevitability that fracking is going to happen, it’s going to become a part of the rural fabric in many counties,” Sylvester said. “Do you want to sit on the outside throwing rocks, or do you want to be inside the tent, working with Gov. Kasich, the General Assembly and the industry to make things better?”
Only the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, a grass-roots coalition of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers and others, continues the call for a fracking moratorium until the EPA report is released, said MacKenzie Bailey, the association’s policy program coordinator.
“Fracking comes with real risks to public health, our food shed, and the water, soil and air resources that we all share,” Bailey said. “Ohio’s current fracking regulations give the green light to gas and oil companies, and leave farmers and consumers vulnerable to the potential dangers of fracking.”
Farmers depend on clean soil, water and air for their livelihoods, so they are among those who could suffer most from the negative impacts of fracking. “Ohio policymakers need to re-examine these risks and take action to require full public disclosure of chemicals, and give local governments and property owners meaningful opportunities for involvement and the right to determine the future of their communities,” Bailey said.