Activists hold ‘action camp’ in Monroe County

GRAYSVILLE — Two environmental advocacy groups joined forces this weekend in Monroe County to educate their members about hydraulic fracturing in the Wayne National Forest and train members on “direct action” techniques to resist the oil and gas industry.

About 150 Appalachia Resist and Keep Wayne Wild members and their families were hosted by Michael and Ruth Partin, who own a family farm in the Wayne National Forest hills near Graysville. The groups arrived on Friday and camped out on the Partin farm until Monday.

Partin, a retired U.S. Navy officer, moved to the area 20 years ago from San Diego.

“We love the mountains and the remoteness of the place. We came out here for clean air, clean water and privacy after living in San Diego, where there (are) 3 million people in town, and the air is brown,” Partin said.

Partin noted he appreciated the extra police presence provided by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, although he wasn’t expecting any conflicts at the event.

“I didn’t expect any trouble. The folks came in for a weekend of camping from all over. There were people here from Vermont, Michigan, Carolina and all across Ohio. The police were very vigilant and I appreciated their presence,” Partin said.

The event — the second-annual Appalachia Resist Action Camp — was held in the Wayne National Forest because of the recent leases that were auctioned by the Bureau of Land Management to companies expected to set up fracking operations there.

“This year’s camp will again focus on working with activists in our region around the intersection of social and environmental justice. Emphasis will be on the proposed fracking of the Wayne and the history of resource extraction and social justice movements in our region,” Appalachia Resist states on its Facebook page.

Appalachia Resist was formed in 2012 when Madeline Fitch blocked access to a frack waste injection well in Athens County. Keep Wayne Wild is a group of Athens and Meigs county residents who oppose fracking, injection wells and the barging of frack waste on the Ohio River.

“While we work with other groups, ours is focused on direct action; we interfere directly and nonviolently with the environmental destruction we oppose,” the Keep Wayne Wild website states.

During the event, the campers participated in activities and workshops which focused on topics such as anti-oppression, strategic direct action training, climb training/tree-sitting, environmental justice, facilitation training, pipeline resistance and legal matters affecting environmental activism.

Cusi Ballew of Appalachia Resist said a big goal of the camp was to teach “inter-movement solidarity,” to strengthen different causes which the group believes are related.

“These issues, whether they be about racism or environmental degradation, or sexism or genderism, all these things affect us all. We held workshops on issues ranging from racism, cross-movement solidarity, to climb trainings. The climbs train for tree-sitting encampment strategies,” Ballew said. “It’s got a lot of uses, and it’s also a lot of fun.”

Becca Pollard of Keep Wayne Wild said her group’s main purpose is outreach, working with other environmental groups across the state trying to raise awareness about the oil and gas industry in the Wayne National Forest.

“There seems to be a misconception that this area of the state is a sacrifice zone, that nobody cares about the forest. The more we talk to people and make friends in the community, we see that is not the case. People are finally starting to feel more empowered to speak out against the industry,” Joy Adams of Keep Wayne Wild said.

Pollard said her organization has been hearing from people such as landscape designers, hunters and fishermen and others who are “really upset” about what they believe they will lose if they oil and gas industry continues to expand in the Wayne and surrounding areas.

“People say I’m an outsider when I’m from Athens County, but I will have to fight fracking if it comes to Athens County. I would rather fight it here so it won’t even come there,” Ballew said.

The two organizations say they are concerned about chemicals like benzene, which is present in fracking wastewater, polluting the water table, streams and rivers in the area. Bellew recommends that all property owners get their water tested to provide a baseline so they can prove whether or not fracking may be the cause of any increases in chemicals in their drinking water.

“Oil and gas is a boom-and-bust system. We’ve all seen it happen,” Ballew said. “My advice to people reading this is to think long-term, think creatively and think together. Think about the economy we could build for the long-term. The World Bank says the next world war will be over water. Clean, accessible water is going to become a high-end commodity in the near future. The long-term protection of that resource is an economic boon.”