We all know the tactic where an agency sets up separate tables in large banquet or meeting rooms to break a meeting up into small discussion groups. This effectively keeps valuable information that would otherwise be revealed in the general discussion from being heard by the larger group, which would have enhanced communal brainstorming and questioning of the process or problem that is the citizens concern. This suppresses any controversial discussions that doesn’t fit the agency agenda, and inhibits networking or brainstorming on the issue.

Over 100 Athens County citizens had requested a “public hearing” on a new permit to convert an old oil well into a class II injection well.  The Ohio Department of Natural Resources denied the citizens request and instead announced that they (ODNR) would hold an “informational meeting” instead.

The following paragraph was included in the ODNR announcement to the community.

“Public safety and traffic: Car-pooling to this meeting is strongly encouraged as attendance is expected to be high and parking is limited. The venue’s parking lot cannot accommodate buses. For public safety considerations, only small personal items and purses will be permitted inside the venue; for example, book bags and knapsacks will not be allowed inside the venue. All bags may be subject for inspection by law enforcement. Out of courtesy to the proceedings and participants, no video cameras, demonstrations or signs and banners will be permitted inside the venue. A “free speech zone” will be designated outside for those wishing to display signs and banners. “

More than seventy-five residents were crowded inside ODNR Athens headquarters when they took matters into their own hands and transformed the ODNR’S planned “open house” into the public hearing they had requested.  The crowd was made up of concerned landowners, farmers, business owners, and mothers with young children.  Ex-county commissioner Roxanne Groff hosted the impromptu event.  She began by acknowledging Rick Simmers, Chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resource Management, and moved on to take prepared public comments from the assembled crowd.  ODNR personnel were visibly at a loss.  Law enforcement quickly interrupted Groff, asking her to leave, at which point Groff asked the public if they would like her to continue.  The room broke into enthusiastic applause.  After law enforcement again ordered residents to leave, the crowd broke into a “mic check”, chanting as they left the building “The ODNR has been bought by the oil and gas industry!” “No new permits!” “When is the public hearing?”  When the public left, the room was nearly empty, except for ODNR personnel and the large law enforcement presence they had invited.

After the public was ordered out, they were met outside by over 100 Athens County residents who had marched down E. State St. to ODNR headquarters to voice their objection to the ODNR’s continuing disregard of the widespread community concern about Class II injection wells.

The marchers carried placards emblazoned with skulls and held a banner that read “Shut it Down! No New Wells!” and signs with slogans such as “Our Safety is Not for Sale”, “Defend Our Water”, “We Demand a Public a Hearing”, and “I Want my Concerns on Record” “.  Marchers wore hazmat style suits and respirators to draw attention to the fact that Class II injection wells accept massive amounts of radioactive fracking waste from out-of-state.

Community objection to injection wells has been increasing lately, as landowners have realized that they do not have any say if an injection well goes into operation on or near their property.  Ms. Malvena Frost, who owns the property on which the Atha injection well is proposed in Rome Township, Athens County, does not want an injection well on her land.  She “fears her only source of drinking water, a private well…will be contaminated,” according to public comments submitted on her behalf to ODNR by her attorney, Mike Hollingsworth.

As soon as this tactic was apparent, citizens labeled it as such, a “divide and conquer tactic”.  Once you label a tactic publicly, it loses its power.  This and many other industry/agency tactics can be countered with a minimum of wasted effort by keeping the lines of communication open with your fellow citizens and other similar interested organization.

Congratulations  to Athens County Frack Action Network and Appalachia Resist and the citizens of Athens County, Ohio for standing up for your community.