Residents Hear from Those Who Have Seen Fracking

Athens OH Messenger
30 January 2012
By Casey Elliott, Staff Journalist

[Note: A .pdf file of Dr. Bond's presentation may be found here.]

Residents and concerned individuals gathered Saturday to find out more about the personal experiences of two individuals who have seen the effects of fracking firsthand — one of whom was featured in the popular documentary “Gasland.”

Calvin Tillman, former mayor of Dish, Texas, and S. Thomas Bond, a retired teacher with a doctorate in inorganic chemistry, both spoke out against hydraulic fracturing to a packed crowd in Morton Hall on the Ohio University campus on Saturday.

Tillman, who was featured in “Gasland,” said he experienced firsthand the environmental and health impacts of wells in the small town of Dish. Tillman, who started out attempting to work with the gas companies involved in the drilling, became concerned when he and residents noticed overpowering odors in the air following the construction of dehydrating equipment in the area and industry surveys indicated there were no emissions problems.

Tillman said a study paid for by his town showed high levels of suspected human carcinogens. Those studies prompted further studies by government agencies, which resulted in some changes, but the issues continued.

Tillman also spoke of a Texan named Tim Ruggiero, who had purchased a property with 10 acres for horses, but one day a gas company had set up shop on his site, reducing the amount of land he and his family could utilize. Tillman said Ruggiero did not own the mineral rights on his property, so oil and gas companies could use the land as they pleased to extract minerals.

Ruggiero eventually saw his property value drop from $360,000 to about $75,000 because of the equipment on the land, and he was unable sell the land, according to Tillman.

“It’s heart wrenching when I talk to someone who wanted to get out and just can’t,” because they could not sell their property, he said.

Tillman himself decided to move from Dish in 2011 after realizing his young children’s nosebleeds — which they did not have prior to the odor problem and gas extraction work — were linked to the emissions. Since he moved, his children no longer have the nosebleeds.

“I didn’t come here to tell you what to do or not to do,” he said, with a picture of the industrial work at a gas site next door to a home in the background. “But that picture — that’s what Athens will look like in 15 years.”

Tillman urged residents to study up on the issues and be sure that whatever they choose to do with their property, they have all the facts before they make their decision.

Bond, who taught at Salem College for 19 years and is a lifelong farmer, spoke of the impacts of fracking to the environment, land owners and future resources.

“It’s frequently not wise to rush in and use the easiest resource for one’s immediate needs,” he said. “We need to preserve resources, to carefully measure out those that are truly needed, and to cultivate appropriate ways to use them to get the most benefit.”

Bond said fracking releases chemicals into the air, groundwater can be polluted from runoff from fracking and other mining processes, and the industrial work created by the collection of oil or gas adds to strain on area roads from trucking. In addition, the extraction sites can destroy surface beauty, decimate forests, ruin property values and impact the health of those living nearby.

Bond added there is always a risk of explosions at extraction sites, and jobs generated are generally for those from outside the area, who come in, work long hours for a few months and then leave to the next job.

“Hourly wages are high, but the conditions are so difficult it attracts drifters,” he said.

Bond also encouraged attendees to do their research, and stressed that green energy is the best way forward.

Oil and gas union members from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 18 in Ohio were present at the talk to show their support for the industry itself. Organizing Director and Business Representative Premo Panzarello said he was particularly displeased with comments about transient workers, and said employees in his union handle the heavy operations for all types of energy generation.

“We’ve built solar farms, windmills, gas lines,” he said, adding that no matter what they build, someone is always concerned about the potential impacts — be it birds, bats or humans. “We’re just good, hard-working people.”

He said many of the members in their union’s main concern is safety.

“Everybody wants it to be done safely,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”