Ohio: Where oxymoronic legislation proliferates like fracking platforms



The following mission statement is taken directly from the website for the Clean Ohio Fund: “The Clean Ohio Fund restores, protects, and connects Ohio’s important natural and urban places by preserving green space and farmland, improving outdoor recreation, and cleaning up brownfields to encourage redevelopment and revitalize communities.”

More specifically, the site delineates the ways in which “the Clean Ohio Green Space Conservation Program helps to fund preservation of open spaces, sensitive ecological areas, and stream corridors.

“Special emphasis has been given to projects that:

“Protect habitat for rare, threatened or endangered species;

“Preserve high quality wetlands and other scarce natural resources;

“Preserve streamside forests, natural stream channels, functioning floodplains, and other natural features of Ohio’s waterways;

“Support comprehensive open space planning;

“Secure easements to protect stream corridors, which may be planted with trees or vegetation to help reduce erosion and fertilizer/pesticide runoff;

“Enhance eco-tourism and economic development related to outdoor recreation in economically challenged areas;

“Provide pedestrian or bicycle passageways between natural areas and preserves;

“Reduce or eliminate nonnative, invasive plant and animal species;

“Provide safe areas for fishing, hunting and trapping in a manner that provides a balanced eco-system.”

GOP legislators have recently proposed to fund “Clean Ohio” by allowing fracking in state parks and state forests and then allocating half of that licensing revenue to the protection and the preservation of the natural beauty of those parks and forests.

So, just in case the absurdity of this is not immediately and completely clear, let me make the point more slowly. The state parks and state forests are now in a fairly pristine condition, and Ohioans would like to keep them that way. So the legislators propose to open those public lands to mining operations that will make them much less pristine but that will generate revenue to restore them, presumably, to the pristine state in which they existed before the mining occurred.

No one has offered any explanation of how this legislation provides for any sort of progress.

Most probably because it simply doesn’t.

You can’t explain something that makes sense only if you say it so fast that someone only half paying attention comes away thinking that it sounds as if it ought to make sense.

I am not a proponent of fracking. But what I find most disturbing about the proliferation of fracking platforms across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and neighboring states is that most of the fracking is occurring in very economically depressed counties that have never really recovered from the collapse of the deep mining of coal as a major industry.

I was born in northeastern Pennsylvania when the anthracite industry was gasping for air like the multitudes of former miners suffering from “black lung.” When Interstate 81 was constructed between Scranton and Binghampton, New York, the stretch immediately north of Scranton was lined with culm dumps several hundred feet high. During the summer, the coal dust in these massive heaps of coal waste would ignite from the heat of the sunlight and the compression caused by weight of the material, and bands of orange cinders that looked something like lava would smoke and sputter with a terrible sulphurous smell.

In an early form of disaster tourism, people would visit the region to see the “burning mountains.”

Scranton’s four sections were built on mountains surrounding the narrow Lackawanna River valley. Originally, the four sections of the city were collections of small villages that were constructed around mine openings and iron furnaces.

By the time I was growing up, the timbers in the mine shafts beneath much of the city had rotted to the point that the tunnels began collapsing. One night, a stretch of Luzerne Street, with a shopping center on one side and a city park on the other side, suddenly dropped three or four feet—curb to curb, as cleanly as if someone had sawn it free. For a while, the city leaders talked about bringing the street back up to its original height, but they finally settled on simply rounding off the sudden drop at either end of the trough. It remains that way to this day.

But that sort of calamity did lead our well-placed U.S. congressmen to secure about $250 million in grants to wash the culm, dump-truck load by dump-truck load, back into the now inoperative mines in order to prevent further “subsidence.” The dump trucks backed up to the sort of metal containers that are used to haul away construction refuse. The containers sat along the curbs and were positioned over shafts drilled down to the mines. Then water from a nearby fire hydrant would be used to flush the culm down the shaft.

When driving along the expressway that ran along the Roaring Brook, a major tributary of the Lackawanna River, one could see the water running out of the mine openings still visible along the bottom of the cliffs that kept the East Side from sliding into the gorge.

In many parts of the “coal region” and the bituminous field of western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, that sort of restoration is still ongoing. And as the cycle of rapacious mining begins again, one wonders how much it is going to cost to clean up the mess this time—and how many times the natural environment can be ravaged in this way and still have the capacity to recover.

Even if the licensing revenue from fracking Ohio’s public lands pays for the damage done on the surface to the state parks and state forests, where is the funding going to come from to repair the damage done much farther below the ground level?