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Bill of Rights Committee Begins Fight Against Fracking

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A local group characterized as an emergency committee – known as the Bill of Rights Committee – has organized to tackle the issue of fracking in the area.

The committee consists of individuals ranging from local farmers, government officials, business owners and other area residents. The group also intends to create a subcommittee that will become an official student group at Ohio University.

Richard McGinn (a previous version of this article incorrectly misspelled this name as McGuinn) is the organizer of the group, and arranged the first meeting Nov. 26, 2012. McGuinn stresses the perceived threat hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” poses to residents throughout Southeastern Ohio.

“We are people concerned about the watershed,” McGinn said. “Water is a shared resource, but you have to have a law based in a certain place, so we are asking for a ban of fracking within city limits.”

Fracking is essentially using pressurized water with chemicals to form “veins” and “dikes” to fracture rock layers that contain natural gas so that companies can collect the gas.

McGinn stressed the hazard to local communities such as Albany, Nelsonville and Lancaster. He said if these communities fail to regulate fracking within their limits, contaminated water could run through the Hocking to Athens, and continue to Meigs County and beyond.

Fracking, considered threatening to health by some, is exempted from strict regulation as worded in the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005.

According to a Nov. 2, 2009 editorial by the New York Times, a loophole known as the “Halliburton loophole” is what excludes fracking groups from said regulation.

“[Fracking] stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing. Invented by Halliburton in the 1940s, it involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, into underground rock formations to blast them open and release natural gas,” reads the editorial.

After fracking occurs, much of the water used in this process, containing within it some of these chemicals, pumps this water right back into the watershed. Groups like the BORC claim that fracking contributes to Global Warming, and suggests that the wastewater is highly toxic and unsafe. People in communities with large amounts of fracking have acknowledged a great deal more negative health effects, suggesting that fracking has contributed to sinus and respiratory problems.

The Ohio Constitution says constituents have the right to clean water and clean air, which could benefit anti-fracking groups such as BORC.

Many communities within Ohio have made a point to petition their city governments to ban fracking, citing city and state Bill of Rights. One example is included in a proposed amendment to the Community Bill of Rights in Broadview Heights, Ohio.

“It shall be unlawful for any person or corporation, or any director, officer, owner, or manager of a corporation to use a corporation, to deposit, store or transport waste water, “produced” water, “frack” water, brine or other materials, chemicals or by-products used in the extraction of gas or oil, within, upon or through the land, air or waters of The City of Broadview Heights,” according to the amendment.

BORC is currently spreading word of fracking’s harmful effects to Athenians. Their goal is to get the issue on the next ballot in November.

The hope is that this, or an ordinance change by the city council, will make fracking illegal within the city limits of Athens. The committee has enlisted the help of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to advise them.

McGinn proposed that passing this legislation could create safer water not only for Athens but also surrounding cities as well. If Athens can pass legislation that includes the desirable wording, the legislation may result in a possible lawsuit from the city if communities upstream do not regulate their water.

In the meantime, McGinn hopes to continue the growth of BORC.

“We have ten members of the working committee and ten on advisory committee,” McGinn said. “We are hoping to develop to around 100. If we can save Athens, we can save other towns and cities down stream.”

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