15 May 2014, 15:17

US politicians let fracking rules slide as industry gains more money, momentum

US politicians let fracking rules slide as industry gains more money, momentum

America's fracking rules are continuing to soften as the industry is starting to gain momentum in the market and profits in the pockets of the wealthy hydraulic fracturing business owners. One state in particular—Ohio— is in the spotlight as gas drilling has made for a popular trade to pull in cash while leaving far too much toxic waste as a result.

Lawmakers though have acted in a very modest manner addressing such worries pertaining to public safety. On an annual basis, Ohio reportedly processes thousands of tons of radioactive waste products thanks to the fracking industry's non-stop drilling and injecting efforts.

The workers use old or unused gas wells and then drop off the excess waste into dumps. Looking back into the past, the disposal of such toxic products was never under strict regulation and with very little rules around how its possible contamination could be measured. Storage and transport units for the harmful sludge was never finalized either.

As the fracking sector has only been growing, a year ago politicians in office had the chance to figure out how to best look over Ohio's huge amount of toxic garbage. Much of the filth was coming into the region from neighboring regions.

Though numerous requests have been put in for the toxic waste to be tested for any possible contaminants, Governor John Kasich of Ohio and the state legislature signed off allowing for only a tiny fraction of waste to be subjected to a strict amount of oversight. The greater majority of waste byproducts created during the drilling procedure—which includes the water and dug up rock—are left untested.

Lobbied by none other than the fracking industry executives themselves, the legislature was convinced enough to undo the governor's bid to get the waste tested by the Department of Health in Ohio. This particular health agency was known to be one of the best with the highest amount of expert knowledge in radioactive material. Instead, the testing is now the Department of Natural Resources' responsibility, which oversees the permits and inspections of oil and gas drilling areas but presently has no track record for handling radioactive waste. Shifting the testing from an experienced agency to one with little to no history of carrying out such vital tests could be a premeditated move by fracking firms to get away with sending toxic waste into the irreplaceable and priceless environment that encompasses Ohio.

What is even more sickening is that policymakers acted with very little public debate and the new rules they took on were hidden deep inside a 4,000 page-long state budget bill. In the end, each of the regulations first put on the table by Kasich and those signed into law have caused environmental activists to spew steam out of their ears, furious about the step they believe to be in the wrong direction. Residents are also gravely concerned about the risk factors of having fracking sites set up in their state.

According to a ProPublica review of the legislature's previous actions, just a couple of parties testified before the committee that was in control of looking over the pluses and minuses of the proposal. Interviews with legislative members' revealed revisions were made on two sections which had been proposed by the governor and were inserted into the bill during the final minutes.

Ohio's regulation of its fracking sector has been left much the same due to these last minute provisions. Hydraulic fracturing has been seen as a controversial practice that has been handed over weak regulations in Ohio, a move that is reason enough for the public to start panicking.

"It has the potential to leave a toxic legacy that could turn much of Ohio into potential superfund sites," said Alison Auciello of the Food and Water Watch, an environmental advocacy organization, as reported by Scientific American.

Current regulations made obligatory tests on fracking waste an unnecessary procedure, according to Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Stewart also stated that his organization was responsible for pushing the limit of the Department of Health's part as it would have made for even more bureaucratic issues rather than efficient oversight.

Ohio State's oil and gas interests backs "regulation that directly enhances protection of the public interest while allowing industry to efficiently do its job," Stewart explained, as stated in an article from Scientific American, then he added, "We do not support regulation that is designed more to placate people or somehow make them feel better."

Fracking is a lucrative business, especially in Ohio where thousands of jobs have been created and billions of dollars put into it by eager firms ready to mine the state's natural gas resources. One economic study carried out by industry organizations in 2011 predicted that the oil and gas drilling sector would add in more than 200,000 vacancies in the coming of years. Kasich has stated that Ohio is a very ambitious partner in this sort of industry.

Two environmental challenges are starting to float up on the surface when it comes to Ohio's hydro fracturing—the liquid waste that is injected into the ground and the solid waste that is being shoved into the state's dumps. As the concern over the consequences of fracking becomes more publicized, people are becoming more worried about an increase in earthquakes, groundwater leaks, and health issues due to the uptick in drilling.

State officials have promised the public that they are investigating the risks of the liquid waste being injected into the ground however, the rules stipulated in the budget for 2013 barely did anything to address the possible threat it could have on the welfare of the people. Ohio conservationists believe that no solid regulations can be implemented until there is a true debate in public, including those from the research and science fields that have been for years, studying implications radioactive waste has on the health of humans and the ecosystem alike.

"When you let politics rule in the face of scientific determination, it's an unconscionable position to take," Julie Weatherington-Rice, an adjunct professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Ohio State University, said of the limited changes in regulatory oversight, as stated in a Scientific American article, "In the process of doing that they've put the population of Ohio at risk."

Citizens of Ohio will continue to battle with their politicians over the policies that are not in place that need to be in the fracking industry. That fight though may be harder to win, as profits rise within the oil and gas sector voices of concerned residents might be drowned out by the movers and shakers of the fracking movement that is sweeping through America, and in the minds of many, ruining the very fabric of their lives.


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