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Elected officials should stand against fossil fuels

It was an honor to testify before the House Subcommittee on the Environment on the role of federal fossil fuel subsidies in preventing action on the climate crisis. However, I was disappointed by the response from state and local government leaders who I believe misrepresented the issue, citing research published by the oil and gas industry to back up false claims of economic growth and “clean” emissions.

In a recent news article, state Sen.Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, stated: “Far left attempts to vilify the significant economic opportunities brought by the oil and gas industry are patently false …” This argument is futile, as the statistics mentioned in my testimony came directly from the Bureau of Labor Statics and Bureau of Economics. It is the irrefutable truth, based on governmental data, that Appalachian fracking counties have lost 6,500 jobs and 13,000 residents since the fracking boom began.

Sen. Hoagland also stated, “Additionally, other sectors and small businesses have grown with Ohio and the gas industry.”

This may have been true for a short period of time, but now you can see the evidence to the contrary. The hotels and campgrounds are virtually empty, and some of the other small businesses that surfaced, like industry supply shops, are gone.

I take offense to Mike Chadsey, spokesman for the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, stating that Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib are spreading misinformation. In fact, experts agree that official figures showing national declines in greenhouse gas emissions understate emissions of methane, the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas, released in intentional venting and flaring episodes and unintended leaks throughout the oil and gas development supply chain. Accidents which release massive amounts of methane into the atmosphere, like the Exxon-owned XTO blowout right here in Belmont County, one of the largest methane leaks in U.S. history, are also unaccounted for in official figures.

The oil and gas industry is just now acknowledging that climate change exists, but they cannot be taken seriously when they claim their industry is a part of the solution. The fracking process is resource intensive, contaminates fresh water supplies, produces massive quantities of radioactive, chemical laden waste, and pollutes the air with carcinogenic volatile organic compounds, and therefore cannot be considered an appropriate bridge fuel in addressing climate change.

Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton said the commission had been responsive to concerns over an injection well. Although we appreciate the support given, obviously it was inadequate, as the Omni Energy Group injection well is now in the drilling phase of construction. We are asking the commission to apply consistent pressure to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to halt future permits for this wastewater injection well.

Commissioner Jerry Echemann stated he had faith that the oil and gas industry is alive and well. His faith is misplaced and not based on fact. The industry is still present, but activity has slowed, and companies including Gulfport, a heavy player in the county, are filing for bankruptcy. According to a 2020 study from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Appalachian fracking companies have failed to produce positive free cash flow each year for the past decade.

The officials are claiming that the industry has done a lot for Belmont County and that they are behind them. Why do they not acknowledge all the harms brought by this same industry? Can they still be unconcerned, or are they afraid to face the truth based on fact? This industry is polluting our air and water and causing negative health impacts to residents of Belmont County. Are we to assume that Sen. Hoagland and the Belmont County Board of Commission are willing to sacrifice the health of the people for corporate wealth?

We are asking elected officials to work with us in creating a better vision for the Ohio River Valley. We must diversify our economy and stop relying on the boom and bust cycles of the fossil fuel industry as the savior for our region. We understand that local officials were also given misinformation by the industry and regulators. Local residents have provided science and fact-based evidence to dispute their narrative. Please wake up, and accept the truth, and take appropriate action to right the wrongs supporting this industry has caused. We shall remain persistent and resistant to all that threatens our children’s future.

Jill A. Hunkler is a Barnesville resident and a member of the Concerned Ohio River Residents, an environmental advocacy group that opposes fossil fuel extraction and development. The group also stands against the PTT Global Chemical America ethane cracker plant proposed for the Dilles Bottom area of Belmont County.

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