Letter to Ohio House Public Utilities Committee, Substitute Senate Bill 315

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chairman Stautberg and Committee Members
House Public Utilities Committee
Ohio House of Representatives

Re: Substitute Senate Bill 315

Dear Chairman Stautberg and Members the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee:

I write to you today on behalf of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) in regards to oil and gas regulations in substitute Senate Bill 315. For more than 30 years, OEFFA has worked to build a healthy, sustainable food and farming system. Today, OEFFA represents more than 3,000 organic and sustainable farmers, small business owners, and consumers.

There are nearly 600 certified organic farm operations in Ohio and much of the organic pasture and cropland is located in areas of the state containing shale deposits.  While the organic sector continues to grow—on average 7.5 percent annually—water and soil contamination resulting from fracking threatens to jeopardize farmers’ organic certification. If farmers lose certification due to contaminated land or water, that land will be taken out of organic production for at least three years, causing economic harm to the farmer who will lose market access while working to regain certification on the affected land.  Ohio legislators have a responsibility to put strong protections in place against the dangers of fracking in order to uphold the integrity of our food system and farmland, and ensure that this growing sector of Ohio’s agricultural economy continues to thrive.

Water contamination is the single greatest threat to our local food and farming systems. Farmers rely on their water supply to keep their produce and livestock healthy. Unconventional fracking requires up to 300 times more water than conventional hydro-fracturing. Each well can be fracked up to 18 times, using millions of gallons of water each time. Waste water, or “brine,” that contains chemicals used in the fracking process, as well as naturally occurring heavy metals and toxic gases, can contaminate ground and surface water supplies through underground fissures, surface spills, and blowouts.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has linked water contamination to chemicals used in fracking in Pavillion, WY.  Since 2008, Pennsylvania has identified more than 700 violations of state law related to water, with fines totaling $1.5 million.  Additionally, livestock are attracted to the toxic and salty brine used in fracking and therefore are particularly vulnerable if there is contamination of soil or water.

Air pollution near fracking sites can have a significant impact on a farm’s production. For instance, elevated levels of ground level ozone from an increase in traffic can lower soybean crop yields–one of Ohio’s largest agricultural commodities. Other crops that can be affected include spinach, tomatoes, beans, alfalfa and other forages.

On behalf of our members, I implore you to protect Ohio’s farming community, small business owners, and rural landowners by:

•           Requiring full public disclosure of chemicals by name used in fracking prior to injection. This is necessary to protect the health of Ohioans and help to establish clear lines of traceability if contamination were to occur. Without the release of the chemical names prior to injection, citizens will not know what to test for. Property owners, whether they live inside of the mandatory testing area or not, should have the ability to conduct independent baseline testing. Protecting company “trade secrets” should not come at the expense of the health and welfare of our communities.  Additionally, the “gag order” on physicians must be removed, so firefighters, public health agencies and first responders have the information they need in order to respond to emergency situations.

•           Providing more opportunities for citizen participation by establishing periods of public notice and comment, and a citizen appeals process. Although substitute Senate Bill 315 blocks a citizens’ right to appeal a permit that is granted to an oil and gas company, it allows a company to appeal a permit denial. Corporate interests should not be favored over an American citizens’ constitutional rights. Additionally, the bill provides little opportunity for members of the public to participate in the permitting process prior to the issuance of a permit. Overall the permitting and appeals processes must be transparent and the lines of accountability must be clear.

•           Increasing control at the local level. Ohio law currently gives “sole and exclusive” authority to the state for the permitting for oil and gas projects.  This clause is extreme and should be removed. It fundamentally undermines the rights of local government and property owners to determine the future of their communities. Given that a large amount of infrastructure must be built in order to support a fully operational drilling site, it is important that local entities have the ability to formally weigh in. Local municipalities will incur long-term costs, need to plan appropriately, and must have the authority to make meaningful decisions to protect the interests of their constituents.  A first step should be to ensure that no permit move forward without a road maintenance agreement with the local municipality.

Sustainable agriculture supports the long-term economic and environmental health of our rural communities.  We acknowledge the potential economic benefits fracking may bring to some members of our rural communities, but urge caution that short-term prosperity cannot come at the expense of a long-term commitment to stewardship of our natural resources, nor should economic benefit to a small group of people, come at the expense of an entire community. We must protect the integrity of our soil and water and ensure the general health and well-being of our communities and our ability to continue farming for generations.  Our priority cannot be to promote the interests of energy companies over the protection of our citizenry.

Thank you,

MacKenzie Bailey
Policy Program Coordinator
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
41 Croswell Rd.
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 421-2022 Ext. 208