The practice is under fire this week after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that local governments no longer have the authority to ban fracking.
“Look at all the spills we’ve had in Appalachia, just going back 15 years,” said Geoffrey Buckley, an associate professor of geography at Ohio University. “Sewage sludge spills, dam breaks, the storage facility outside of Charleston last year. We’re not paying the real cost of that energy when something is so cheap.”
Assurances of job surpluses and local economic benefits have kept the fracking industry booming in oil-rich Appalachia.
“Extraction industries, like coal mining and fracking, require specialized workers, and those workers are paid a premium for their skilled labor, often under difficult working conditions,” Daniel Karney, an assistant professor of economics at OU, said in an email. “Employment in such industries is lucrative, relative to many of the other options available to those workers in Southeast Ohio and West Virginia.”
Officials in the energy industry see fracking as an alternative to dependence on foreign resources.
“If you take energy away from this country, we’re not going to last very long,” said Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association of West Virginia.
Another concern some OU professors have is the heightened dependence on water resources, as well as potential contaminated drinking water from the toxic fracking flowback fluids.
“An average frack job uses about 5 million gallons of water,” said Bernhard Debatin, OU professor of environmental journalism. “It’s a pretty dirty operation.”
Dina Lopez, chair of OU’s department of Geological Sciences, said she wants to see fracking companies conduct careful water samples in the contested areas before and after the operations.
“You need to know the state of the system before you exploit it,” she said. “In Ohio, with so much coal and so much gas, [it’s] very likely we could have contaminants happening naturally in the water. But how do we know that that’s due to exploitation or not if we have not done the analysis before?”
Whether a boon for jobs or a burden for the environment, fracking appears to likely remain a divided issue for the people of Appalachia.
“This is a big concern for everybody,” Lopez said.
This story also appears on The Post