Anti-fracking Protesters Disrupt Congressional Energy Hearing
STEUBENVILLE, OH - US House lawmakers from the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources met Monday in Steubenville, OH for a field hearing on hydraulic fracturing. The optimistic panel was titled “Natural Gas – America’s New Energy Opportunity: Creating Jobs, Energy and Community Growth.” While lawmakers and industry officials touted the opportunity for economic growth by creating jobs and cutting domestic fuel costs, activists testified against drilling and some disrupted the hearings stating that the real growth was in industry payoffs to committee members as part of 10-year lobbying campaign for officials to ignore the alarming health and environmental impacts of fracking. During Ohio Oil and Gas Association executive vice president Tom Stewart’s testimony Susie Beiersdorfer, resident of Youngstown, OH and professor of geology, led residents in an Occupy Wallstreet style ‘mic check’ shouting “Members of the Subcommittee have received $3 million from the oil and gas industry. That is why Congress lets fracking poison our water and land.” The protesters then attempted to present a giant check for $3 million from the “Ohio Water Drinkers Association” and were forcibly removed by security saying: “We can’t drink money,” and “We will not be bought” as they left the room. Afterward protesters held an impromptu press conference immediately outside of the building.
Representative Bill Johnson from Ohio’s 6th district used part of his opening remarks to take potshots at the federal government for “standing in the way of growing our economy,” stating that “the Department of Interior is in the process of developing new rules regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal lands that will serve as the blueprint for new Federal EPA rules implementing regulations that could stop all of this development in its tracks.” Ignoring a recent EPA study which links underground water pollution from hydraulic fracturing as the source of contaminates in drinking water, Johnson relied on industry figures to claim that any additional regulation was unnecessary because “there has not been one single case in the over 1 million hydraulic fracturing jobs nationwide that has resulted in the contamination of drinking water.” One audience member responded by loudly exclaiming “Tell that to Dimock” referring to the Pennsylvania town notorious for its fracking-contaminated water.
And while the hearing was decidedly pro-drilling, opponents also gave testimony. Nathan Johnson, staff attorney for the Buckeye Forest Council called into question the rosy claims of industry stating, “Ohioans want jobs, but we want healthy families and a clean environment, too. There is nothing incompatible about jobs and adequate protection…. For example, Ohio law does not require any pre-drilling water testing or water monitoring requirements in rural areas. Ohio law allows shale gas drilling sites to store toxic wastewater in open pits with no fencing.”
Nearby Athens city councilwoman Michele Papai explained why Athens city and county councils asked the Bureau of Land Management to not permit sales of leases in the Wayne National Forest. “Because chemicals used by the gas and oil industry for drilling, fracturing, and production are exempted from regulation by the Safe Water Drinking Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act [hazardous waste], these levels are neither monitored nor reported.”
Also testifying in dissent was Athens county businesswoman Christine Hughes, who stated: “Ohioans are asking why local control has been stolen from us, and why landowners who don’t want the drilling are subjected to it anyway through eminent domain – by multinational companies who are selling the oil and gas to other countries.” About her business that directly affects 70 jobs as a local-food store owner, Hughes asked the committee, “What will happen to farmers? Who will grow our food?” Hughes was not asked a single question by any member of the subcommittee.
The amount of money flowing into congress and elected officials by industry is a growing cause of alarm for environmental watch-dogs. A report by Common Cause titled “Deep Drilling, Deep pockets” shows that a 10-year lobbying campaign has given over $726 million to help shield the industry from oversight. Common Cause president Bob Edgar says of Ohio that “Ohio’s fracking regulations are among the weakest of any state. Gov. John Kasich was the leading individual recipient with $213,519.” Edgar equates the amount money to the process of gas extraction itself saying, “players in this industry have pumped cash into Congress in the same way they pump toxic chemicals into underground rock formations to free trapped gas …. and as fracking for gas releases toxic chemicals into groundwater and streams, the industry’s political fracking for support is toxic to efforts for a cleaner environment and relief from our dependence on fossil fuels.”
While Representative Johnson received only $23,750 from oil and gas companies during his career, making him a lightweight compared to the average $115,346 handed out, activists showed that collectively the 26 members of the subcommittee have received $2,999,016 from oil and gas companies. Dan Boren (D-Oklahoma) received $328,300 in 10 years and a total of $696,940 in contributions throughout his political career. Diana Ludwig, a resident of Youngstown, OH said after being escorted out of the hearing that “what we witnessed today was the best congressional field hearing money can buy.”
Outside the hearing Bloomberg News covered the anti-fracking press conference.
“It’s time to stop this madness,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, a geologist from Youngstown. “When people ask where they can live that they will be safe — you’ve got to find a place where there isn’t any shale underneath.”
For more information on contributions to congress see: http://www.commoncause.org/site/pp.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIwG&b=7868571