Anti-fracking group continues fight 5 years after Valley quake

COITSVILLE, Ohio (WYTV) – Frackfree America continues to demand tougher regulations against wastewater injection plants, saying they cause earthquakes and are toxic to humans.

The group held a prayer rally in Coitsville Thursday afternoon to remember the Valley’s first man-made earthquake on December 31, 2011.

Many people in parts of Mahoning County still remember the feeling of the earth shaking under their feet on that New Year’s Eve.

The 4.0 earthquake felt in Youngstown, Poland and Weathersfield was later tied to a fracking waste injection well. That well is now closed.

For many of the members, the anniversary signifies when they became active in the fight against fracking and injection wells. They said they’re reminded of the work they still have left to do.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) said that in the five years since the earthquake, it’s poured millions of dollars into making injection wells in the county safer and reliable.

“We certainly have learned a lot in the past five years,” said ODNR spokesperson Steve Irwin.

The department has done a lot, too.

ODNR invested in maximum pressure technologies that regulate how deep injection well operators can drill.

It also built a seismic network in the eastern half of Ohio, with several monitoring sites in both Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

“When seismic activity is detected, a real time alert is given to our seismic staff and we’re able to analyze what’s going on, and then we can make a regulatory decision,” Irwin said.

Still, Frackfree America and other community members said it’s simply not enough.

Thursday’s rally started with a short prayer and then members took to the sidewalks, holding protest signs for cars to see as they drove past.

Members said they are actively working on three fronts in the county – keeping the Weathersfield injection well closed, protesting the injection well in Vienna and preventing a Coitsville injection well from opening.

Jane Spies, who organized the prayer rally, said the fluids contained in injection wells are toxic to humans. She said that’s just one of the side effects from the wells.

“Then there are just the air quality issues…there are spill issues like they had in Vienna, that was a mess. It destroyed two wetlands and a pond.”

Vienna is still reeling from that injection well spill in 2015. Leaders said the well is increasing truck traffic and killing the economy.

“Some homes that are for sale adjacent to injection wells, they can’t be sold,” said Vienna Township Trustee Phillip Pegg. “Who wants to live across the street from an injection well?”

Irwin said ODNR takes the community’s concerns seriously.

“I think if you took a look at our rule-making process, we certainly include the feedback from all sides.”

Spies said the department could do a better job.

“You really need to talk to the people who live right here. We’re living with this and we’re major stakeholders in this, and sometimes I think we’re not seen that way.”

Frackfree America thinks ODNR should shut down all of the injection well sites in the county, saying it’s too dangerous to operate wells in an area with a history of seismic activity.

“The right thing, obviously, is to stop it because we love this community and it’s not going to help our community to have these injection wells coming in,” Spies said. “This is waste.”

Frackfree argues that injection wells, in general, are unsafe and along with fracking, should be abolished and replaced with clean energy.