Ohio Farmers Feeling the Effects of Fracking Boom

March 15, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Hydraulic fracturing – “fracking” – is expanding in Ohio, and debate is heating up over the process. A lot is at stake for farmers, especially those who use sustainable practices.

Oil and gas companies are approaching landowners across Ohio and asking them to sign leases to permit drilling for natural gas in shale formations.

Matthew Starline, whose organic farm near Athens is surrounded by leased land, says the potential for air, soil and water contamination could threaten his organic label and business.

“That could be soil contamination that would result in loss of my organic certification. If I water the ground with contaminated water, there’s a possibility that my certification would be in jeopardy.”

During fracking, experts say, wastewater returned to the surface can contain radioactive materials. They add that heavy metals, such as lead or mercury, can contaminate the soil through spills, leaks, or during venting and airing.

Supporters say fracking could create hundreds of thousands of much-needed jobs and increase revenue in the state.

Ohio has nearly 53,000 acres of certified organic pasture and cropland, much of it in areas containing shale deposits.

Starline is a member of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which represents 3,000 farmers, businesses and individuals. MacKenzie Bailey, the group’s policy program coordinator, says they support a moratorium on the process because so little is known about fracking’s long-term effects.

“Ohio needs strong regulations to protect our farmers and consumers from the risks associated with hydrofracking, including the disclosure of chemicals prior to injection and significantly increasing transparency in the permitting process.”

Local governments have little opportunity to speak up, Bailey says, adding that promoting local control of fracking is critical.

A few months ago, Starline says, many farmers in his area didn’t believe fracking would become an issue for them. Now, he says, they’re being bombarded with information about the gas industry and fracking.

“All of a sudden now, we have over 140,000 acres that are being leased off by three different land groups. So, it came in with amazing speed and everyone wanting to jump right into it.”

Starline says state leaders need to take a step back and evaluate environmental concerns before allowing any more drilling.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service – OH