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Local resident asks EPA to keep safeguards

The Trump administration’s proposed methane rollbacks will cut essential safeguards to control volatile organic compounds and methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. These rollbacks would leave some infrastructure sites, including compressor stations and storage tanks located along interstate pipelines, free to emit unlimited amounts of cancer- causing air pollution.

On Oct. 17, I traveled to Dallas, Texas, for the Environmental Protection Agency hearing and testified in opposition to Trump’s proposed methane rollbacks. I also listened to many others give their testimonies in opposition as well. This included a pediatrician who treats children with cancer. She stated that her patients were already suffering due to poor air quality from oil and gas pollution, and that the rollbacks would allow for greater releases of VOCs, which would have a very negative effect on children. An earth scientist and father who was there with his 5-year old son was in tears as he pleaded with the EPA to consider his son’s right to a healthy future in their decision-making. He also begged them not to not deny the science, which he said overwhelming proves that oil and gas production is a disaster for public health and our environment, contributing to the climate crisis at hand.

My opposition testimony given at the EPA methane rollback hearing follows:

“I live in Somerset Township in Belmont County, Ohio, near the Village of Barnesville. I am here to give testimony opposing the methane rollbacks proposed by the Trump administration. Belmont County is the most heavily fracked in the state, with over 600 wells drilled. Alarmingly, 78 of those wells are located within a 5-mile radius of my home. There are four well sites, one within a mile and the remaining three within a mile and a half, that have been in significant violations since 2016, with no enforcement action by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, or remediation of any kind by Gulfport, the fracking company in violation. In a recent national news story, Energy & Environment News exposed that there are a total of 16 Gulfport well pads in our area that have been in violation since 2016. A local industry worker is quoted in the story saying, “everything leaks” relating to oil and gas development. …

We have also been dealing with toxic air pollution from the MarkWest Humphreys compressor station that is less than 2 miles from my home, which has also been in violation. Here is a recent example of regulatory failure by the Ohio EPA: My family and others in the community smelled strong hydrocarbon odors in and around Barnesville on Sept. 4 and again on (Sept.) 7, while experiencing headaches, and eye irritation. I called and shared my concerns with a dispatcher for OEPA. An OEPA employee called me and stated, “I contacted the Belmont County Emergency Management director and he reached out to the companies in the area. He was told that there was a safety valve malfunction on a pipeline and that it was leaking.” I was then told that we were most likely smelling methyl mercaptan. I asked if he was going to come down and do testing. He replied, “Contact the local fire chief and he can do the testing. They use the same equipment as we do. The public is not at risk and methyl mercaptan is not flammable.”

But in truth, methyl mercaptan is easily ignited, emitting highly toxic fumes and flammable vapors. It is highly irritating when it contacts moist tissues such as the eyes, skin and the upper respiratory tract. It can also induce headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, coma and death.

On Monday, Sept. 9, I made a follow-up call to the OEPA and he informed me that we were just smelling the animals at the sale barn and no testing had been done. When I reminded him that he told me there was a pipeline leak he avoided the question. I contacted the Belmont County Emergency Management director, and he told me that OEPA had specialized equipment and that local authorities do not have the same equipment as the OEPA. All of this reveals how I have been misinformed by the OEPA. The EMA director also said that the agency relied on local emergency management to investigate complaints about oil and gas-related odors in the area, even though they don’t have the specialized equipment to do so!

I was shocked by the inaction of the OEPA. I couldn’t believe they were not going to do their own investigation, monitoring or testing. Why are they requesting that local authorities take over their responsibility of monitoring and testing when they don’t have the specialized monitoring equipment? The closest OEPA office to fracking ground zero in Belmont County is two hours away.

There is a recently installed Blue Racer gathering pipeline and compressor named Warren A, and it is flaring every time I go and check it out. There is also a well pad that flares consistently directly above the Blue Racer site. They are located less than a mile from the Barnesville corporation limits. Barnesville compressor station West, a MarkWest facility, was recently filmed by Earthworks with a forward looking infrared camera, and I was brought to tears seeing the billowing clouds of cancer-causing pollutants flowing directly toward my hometown, less than a mile away.

I am living in a sacrifice zone due to the polluting and poorly regulated oil and gas industry. Now, the petrochemical industry wants to invade and create even more toxic air pollution in the Ohio Valley. My testimony reveals the OEPA is already failing to protect communities from the air pollution from fracking, and now they have granted air permits for, and are promoting cracking to make plastic, the last thing our beautiful planet needs. The EPA must put the health and safety of the people and our environment above corporate interests and profits. We need stricter regulations — not rollbacks on crucial protections that have already been established. Ultimately a ban on fracking, and an immediate shift to sustainable energy solutions is the pathway needed to ensure a protected and healthy future for our children. Aho.

Jill Antares Hunkler is a Barnesville-area resident who has protested and testified against further development of the petrochemical industry in the Ohio Valley.

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