We, the citizens, landowners, village/township/ county officials, and business owners in Barnesville and Belmont County, have almost universally welcomed the new players in the gas and oil exploration industry to our region.
In fact I have heard many representatives of the various companies now working here say that they have rarely experienced such a warm welcome. The money has begun to flow into the county in amounts we have never experienced before. Along the way we have acknowledged that there would be "some costs and risks associated with the presence of the industry and its employees".
One of the first to express that message clearly as a warning and not just a side note, in my experience, was Larry Merry, director of the Port Authority. Whether or not any of us individually have signed leases, as a wider community we all are being impacted.
The public meeting held Monday, the 12th at the Barnesville Fire Department was very well attended. The crowd packed the room and overflowed out the large doorways into the driveway. The purpose of the meeting was to get more informed about the proposed project to be undertaken by EnerGreen 360 at the County Industrial Park north of town. A representative of EnerGreen 360, the head of the Ohio EPA, an OSU geologist/consultant, and an attorney from the Ohio Environmental Council all made presentations.
Several questions were asked and comments were submitted by members of the audience as well as numerous local political officials including members of the Port Authority board. Anyone who attended would have to conclude that the clear message by the end of the session was that the project as planned could not proceed. Far too many serious health and viability concerns were aired, and the application and approval process itself had been rushed without adequate review. The public made it clear that it does care and that such projects cannot be approved without more transparency from the outset.
Thanks to those few alert citizens who raised serious questions early on, the public was able to give its voice to the process.
My hope, however, is that this was not simply a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) message to Merry, the Port Authority, and EnerGreen 360 officials.
The jobs they are working hard to accomplish are vital and time IS of the essence. The industry is generating millions of tons of waste right now, the EnerGreen 360 lease would grant them the ability to process 600,000 tons per year for example.
We must be willing to listen to the next proposal from EnerGreen 360 and /or their successors and respond again according to its merits as well as any flaws.
The Industrial Park needs its first resident client and it needs to develop level spaces to accommodate them. Unregulated disposal will be a disaster for generations to come wherever it occurs. Where is the waste going? Who is monitoring how it is handled? Who is testing for radioactive and toxic content? What are the best practices we want to see observed?
If we don't continue to voice our concerns and press the lawmakers and the regulators about these questions, we are simply dodging the problem. Our children and grandchildren will have every right to ask "what were they thinking?" Companies exist to make profits; they can, and do too often, disappear overnight once they have made the easy money, in many cases leaving the taxpayers to clean up the toxic disasters left behind.
So yes, we must continue to be diligent, to hold the corporations and our officials accountable for due process and wise decision making. But we also have to support the best efforts for solutions to the "costs and risks" we, the wider community, have bought by embracing the gas and oil industry. The work has only begun.