Hunkler to speak before Congress on oil and gas

T-L File Photo Jill Hunkler of Barnesville and others will be speaking in a virtual hearing Thursday before the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Environment.

BARNESVILLE — Local activist Jill Hunkler, who has long spoken in opposition to the natural gas and oil industry, will testify Thursday — Earth Day 2021 — before the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Environment.

The discussion will focus on whether the federal government and international community should repeal fossil fuel subsidies. Hunkler will give virtual testimony along with a panel including youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, spokespersons from Harvard University and Stockholm Environmental Institute’s Climate Policy Program.

Since 2018, Hunkler has worked with Concerned Ohio River Residents, a citizens’ advocacy group based in the Ohio River Valley.

“We’re going to be talking about how continuing to subsidize fossil fuels will impact proper climate action,” she said. “A lot of what I talk about is worker safety issues and how the jobs haven’t really panned out.”

Hunkler said she was asked last week to speak on Earth Day.

“The reason they asked me is because they have … experts on this panel as witnesses for this hearing, but they wanted to have someone who has lived with the oil and gas industry and can speak to the issues we actually face here in the valley due to the extractive industries,” she said.

Hunkler, who said she is a seventh-generation Ohio Valley resident, said she has left her Barnesville home due to the presence of 78 drilling well pads and compressor stations, interstate pipelines and transfer stations within a 5-mile radius of the residence.

She said she is not alone in having issues with the industry.

“I have connections with the people I went to high school with, Barnesville High School, that did get some of the brine truck jobs, some of these jobs, and they tell me horrible stories about what they’ve gone through and how they’re exploited,” she said, adding the industry’s benefits have not been worth the cost.

“What I hope would happen is it will be acknowledged that basically we’re dealing with a resource curse. We were promised all these lasting jobs and economic benefits and royalty payments that would last 50 years, and so local people that got some oil and gas sign-on bonuses and had been promised that the income was going to keep coming, they went and bought $70,000 trucks and new houses and got all these things,” she said. “After a year or so the royalties dried up, and that’s another way people have suffered locally.”

She hopes the government will stop subsidizing fossil fuels and instead invest in renewable energy and regenerative agriculture rather than a “boom and bust” cycle.

“There is hope and there are already philanthropists and large environmental groups and organizations and resources that are available to the community, and I’m asking state and local authorities to join with us and these organizations with resources and let’s get an active plan and start implementing some of these programs and new ways of investing our money and our energy,” she said.

She would also like local officials such as county boards of commissioners and port authorities to take note and consider alternatives to oil and gas.

“They’ve been so focused on the oil and gas industry as the savior for the region for so long and it just hasn’t happened,” she continued. “How many more years are we going to have to go? How much more pollution?”

The hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday and can be viewed on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=yRUm8veLKlk.


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