Resident shares oil and gas concerns

T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK Jill Hunkler of the Barnesville area brings up several issues with oil and gas operations and fracking-related facilities during Wednesday’s meeting of the Belmont County Board of Commissioners. Frank Papini of St. Clairsville also observes.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A local resident brought several concerns about oil and gas activity around Belmont County to the commissioners Wednesday.

Jill Hunkler of the Barnesville area, a member of the activist group Concerned Ohio River Residents, has long voiced opposition to the industry and the practice of fracking. Among the issues she brought up Wednesday were concerns about the Austin Masters waste management facility in Martins Ferry.

“We’ve been working with a coalition of local, state and national environmental groups to bring attention to this dangerous facility,” Hunkler said. “They are processing fracking waste.”

Hunkler said there have been issues since 2017, saying there have been violations, issues related to worker safety, and concerns about its close proximity to a sports field nearby.

She also said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has not written sufficient regulations for such facilities.

She asked the commissioners to speak to a fire chief from outside the area who has taken issue with these operations.

Stephanie O’Grady, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said via email that all oil and gas waste facilities must conform with the law and the Ohio Revised Code.

“The Division has enforced violations of Chief’s Orders and/or violations of laws or statutes on several waste facilities that have included actions consisting of notice of violations, compliance agreements, and Chief’s Orders to suspend operations,” she said in an email.

A Chief’s Order is issued by the Chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management authorizing the storage, recycling, treatment, processing, or disposal of brine or other waste substances.

“The Division has also referred violations of Chief’s Orders to the Attorney General’s Office for enforcement. The Division will continue to diligently regulate all of Ohio’s oil and gas rules and laws and enforce Chief’s Orders authorizing oil and gas waste facility operations,” O’Grady’s email concluded.

The owners of Austin Masters had no comment.

She also mentioned objections to the New Jersey-based Omni Energy Group’s planned saltwater injection well site at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Ohio 331. Since the drilling permit was issued at the end of 2020, work on the facilities have been ongoing despite local objections that the area is highly traveled and numerous government sites, residences and education centers are nearby.

Hunkler mentioned an accidental fluid release at the site earlier this month and said the construction has inconvenienced and potentially endangered nearby residents.

“We sill have a chance to stop it. If we call ODNR … and say, ‘Do not issue the injection well permi,t’ because it’s going to continue to be a problem and that’s the worst place it could possibly be in this county,” Hunkler said.

She also said there are expert analyses suggesting a potential PTT Global Chemical America ethane cracker plant at Dilles Bottom area is unlikely.

She spoke in favor of alternatives such as regenerative agriculture and hemp production and voiced concerns about polluting industries.

Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton said the board was open to any new information but said PTTGCA will make its decision depending on its own analysis.

“I think if it does come to pass … it’ll be the most efficient plant … across the United States,” he said.

Dutton said the commissioners have been in contact with ODNR on a regular basis, relating concerns and following up on incidents such as the fluid release.

“We’re not just solely focused on oil and gas when it comes to economic development,” he said. “We’re more diversified than that. … A potential project that meets all environmental standards, that is at least going to create 350 permanent jobs which would be a major influx of employment in the county at six-figure salaries.”


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