Sharing Stories of Local Leaders
The core of the Environmental Justice movement is powered by communities and local organizers. At CHEJ, we feel incredibly lucky to have been able to work with some of the most inspiring people organizing grassroots movements to restore health to their communities. Here, we want to highlight the stories of some amazing local leaders who are raising awareness for environmental issues in their communities.
Nick Teti, Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness (CECA)
When Nick Teti and a group of friends founded Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness (CECA), they did so because they were thinking differently from the people around them. They had wanted to bring environmental justice, green thinking and health information to Coshocton County, Ohio since the Iraq war, and in 2013 they decided that forming a nonprofit would be the best way to get their message across.
The only dilemma was that in 2013, Coschocton County wasn’t ready to be thinking about environmental reforms. Most people there were too caught up in their daily lives to engage with an environmental movement, like what play they wanted go see at the town recreation center that evening, or whether their friends would be available for a picnic in Coshocton Lake Park the following Sunday.
CECA continued to push for environmental justice in Coshocton, but without a large community coalition behind them. When CECA got wind that Buckeye Brine, LLC was attempting to get Class II waste permits for injection wells in Coshocton, they protested. However, being somewhat isolated from their community, their dissents went mostly without people taking heed, and Buckeye Brine successfully obtained their Class II permits and constructed their injection wells.
Injection wells, for those who don’t know, are a waste disposal mechanism. The concept is basically to take advantage of “porous geological formations” deep into the Earth by pumping waste into them through a long, skinny tube. Class II injection wells, like those currently in Coshocton, are used for dealing with waste from oil and gas production, especially from fracking. Since fracking uses pressurized water to extract oil and gas, once the oil is extracted, that water needs to be disposed of somehow. So companies like Buckeye Brine quite literally inject the Earth with waste.
Currently, the main issue with injection wells are that no one really knows where the waste goes. Sure, the waste is meant to be contained within cement or plastic casing, and pushed deep into the Earth, but there’s no way to guarantee that casing won’t break and cause leaks. Furthermore, these “porous geological formations” are often connected to complex underground waterways. By injecting these formations with water, we contaminate groundwater systems without really knowing where the contaminated water is going: maybe it will go to the town’s well, but maybe the groundwater system empties into a lake four towns over.
After Buckeye Brine, LLC, created their Class II injection wells, they began seeking Class I permits, meaning they could increase the amount of waste they disposed of and potentially dispose of Hazardous waste. For Coshocton, it would mean wastewater from fracking but also plastics production. CECA knew that they had to oppose this upgrade, but that they needed to do something different after their unsuccessful fight against Buckeye Brine’s Class II permits.
This time, CECA knew that in order to have a fighting chance against Buckeye Brine, they needed to mobilize the community. This time, CECA knew that they wouldn’t have success without the community’s involvement. So they began their process of mobilizing Coshocton: informing people of the issues and getting them involved in their movement to block Class I wells from being permitted in their community.
CECA’s mobilization strategies paid off: when people were informed about the dangers posed by a class one injection well, they joined CECA in their anti-injection well activism. They collected 2,000 signatures to present to the government, they contacted local politicians, they got city councillors to oppose the permit and speak out against it. They created t-shirts, billboards, newsletters demanding the Ohio EPA block Buckeye Brine’s permit request. Every time there was a hearing about the potential construction of the wells, the auditorium was completely filled up by angry Coshocton residents.
They even caught the attention of Phyllis Glazer, a 90s activist who gained national attention for founding MOSES, Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins in protest of an injection well facility in Winona, Texas. The facility Glazer successfully stopped was owned by the same people who now own Buckeye Brine.
As Teti explained, the protests weren’t just about opposing a harmful environmental action that would put their community in jeopardy. The protests were about Coshocton people taking back the Coshocton community from those who would damage it without concern for the impact on the people.
When Teti reflects on CECA’s experience in, he recounts how everything changed once CECA focused on an issue that resonated with the community. He thanks the community for everything they’ve done to get involved with the issue, and credits them for any success CECA has had thus far.
“We were isolated in the community for a long time, but we found an issue that resonated with people, and we went all in because it was a way for us to get back to our community to accomplish something,” Teti said. “[Community activism] gives people a power they didn’t know they had.”
In the future, Teti wants to see legislators change their priorities to stop ignoring the common good, and find ways to help people who want their communities back.
What is an injection well?
- Injection wells are a waste disposal mechanism
- A deep canal is built in the ground, and waste is pumped into it
- It’s challenging to know where exactly the waste is going
- The waste often contaminates groundwater systems
Class 1 vs. Class 2 Injection Wells
- Class II wells are used mostly for fracking waste, or salty brine produced in the fracking process
- Class I wells are used for industrial and municipal waste, including hazardous waste
- Class I wells can take more pollution, and are more dangerous if they fail
- Coshocton’s Class I well will take plastics waste and fracking waste, which has significant potential to pollute the groundwater in the area
Buckeye Brine’s Injection Wells are close to Coshocton’s Schools
An Update From CECA Post Ohio EPA’s Decision to Grant Buckeye Brine, LLC a Class 1 Injection Well Permit
“On June 25th, 2019 the OEPA granted a permit to Buckeye Brine allowing them to inject Class 1 Waste beneath the aquifers of Coshocton County. This waste stream will be added to over half a billion gallons of toxic oilfield waste that the company will continue to inject using its Class 2 operations. While the community had some success in making changes to the regulations under which the Class1 wells may operate, the fact remains that despite strong local opposition the wells will operate. Regulations are just words on paper unless there is the political will to enforce them. We intend hold the owners and regulators of these wells accountable and oppose the continued risks and operation of waste injection.
We have learned some lessons from our opposition to the Class 1 permits.
We have learned that In Ohio, if someone with lots of money and power needs something you have in order to get more money and power they will be allowed to take it.
We have learned that Former Governor John Kasich, (the “moderate” Republican,) was a founding member of ALEC. He gave away our state to the gas and oil industry, allowed them to “drill baby drill” wherever they chose, opened up public lands to fracking and allowed billions of gallons of drinking water to be turned into poison and injected into our local geology. He turned Ohio into a sewer for all the multi-state waste the industry can generate. He was quoted as saying, “If you have something of value, use it.” Unfortunately, what he chose to use didn’t belong to him. It was owned collectively and privately by the people of Ohio.
We have learned that when we stand together as a community we have a voice that the policy makers can’t ignore.
We have learned that we, as citizens, must engage our legislators because if we don’t the only voices they will hear are lobbyists who represent the deep pockets and self-serving agendas of those who are corrupting our democratic process.”
– Nick Teti, CECA