Debate over fracking from Athens residents across the political spectrum was cut short Wednesday when police had to end a meeting with officials from the Bureau of Land Management.
The forum was originally set up as an informational gathering for citizens to further learn about potential hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the forest, but those on both side of the issue spent most of the meeting chanting. This lead police at the scene to break up the forum a full hour before it was supposed to end.
Representatives of the BLM were gathered around the perimeter of the room to provide people with information on the potential drilling, including the process of fracking and maps of the proposed areas for leasing.
People in favor of fracking passed out fliers that said for them, the main issue is property rights. They believe that those who privately own the land — 59 percent of Wayne National Forest is reportedly owned privately — should be able to choose to frack on the land if they so desire.
The handouts also touted the economic benefits of fracking. According to their estimates, current mineral development in Wayne National Forest has produced $460,000 for local governments since 2008.
“With their new technology, they won’t have to drill as many wells as they used to,” said Rebecca Clutter, a landowner within the area affected. “If there’s economic advantages, we should take a part in this.”
Those against fracking handed out fliers stating their concerns about the environmental effects of such an activity. Fracking requires enormous amounts of fresh water which, according to the flier, would have the potential to greatly deplete local sources and have other negative impacts.
“I oppose fracking, and I oppose it for two reasons,” Patrick McGee, an Independent who just won a spot on city council, said. “I really don’t think it’s a suitable endeavour for that particular forest location, and I’m really concerned, more than anything else, about injections wells and the constant wastewater in Southeast Ohio. Although that’s not the issue in the Wayne Forest, the question is what that’s going to have on the environment.”
McGee is not the only public figure that spoke out against fracking.
“Fracking has been a big issue for the council because of health and safety reasons,” Councilwoman Christine Fahl, D-4th Ward, said. “If something goes wrong and a spill were to happen, we would have to get our water from the Ohio River. That would kill the economy of Athens.”
Conversely, some long-time residents of Athens supported fracking due to the effect it would have on the job market.
“As a lifetime resident, I had to go away and find a job in Washington, D.C. because there are no good paying jobs,” said Abe Alassaf, an Athens resident and candidate for Ohio’s 94th District Representative. “Yes, I could work in service industry and work 60-80 hours a week and try to get by, but good paying jobs aren’t here.”
This forum is the second in a series put on by the Bureau of Land Management in various locations in Ohio; the first was Tuesday, Nov. 17, and the third one will be held Thursday, Nov. 19.