YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Twenty scientists from Youngstown State University have signed on to support a charter amendment that would ban hydraulic fracturing and wastewater injection wells in the city.
Faculty members representing the geology, physics, chemistry and biology departments at YSU say that oil and gas exploration brings with it many unanswered questions about the levels of toxicity produced during the process, and until those questions are answered, all drilling should be placed on hold.
"Let's slow down," urged James Andrews, a professor of physics at YSU. "Let's slow down because it has not been adequately regulated, in part, because it hasn't adequately been studied."
Andrews joined professors Ray Beiersdorfer of geology, Howard Metttee of chemistry, Matt Zeller, also of chemistry, and Carl Johnston of the biology department during a press event Wednesday at the Ward Beecher Science Hall.
"There's new information coming out every day, every week, that affects our decisions about the safety of the chemicals," and other substances used and produced as a result of the oil and gas exploration process. "These new studies need time to be vetted, we need that knowledge before we should go ahead, especially in a populated area like the city," Andrews said.
Residents of Youngstown have for the third time placed a charter amendment on the ballot that would ban hydraulic fracturing within the city limits. The measure has failed twice before, first during the May 2013 primary and then in the November 2013 general election.
In a statement read for the press, Beiersdorfer said that hydraulic fracturing has been linked to birth defects in Colorado, high levels of water and air pollution in other states, and earthquakes in the Mahoning Valley.
"Shale gas development in northeastern Ohio will come with major environmental and health risks," he said, endorsing the ban.
Beiersdorfer noted that the group is not calling for a permanent ban, but rather a moratorium until "companies can control the air pollution, safely treat radioactivity in the waste, and are required to clean their used fracking water before returning it to the natural source from which it came."
Mettee, a chemistry professor, compared the wastewater injected into disposal wells to a "time bomb" in relation to the groundwater in and around the Mahoning Valley. "If fracking is banned in Youngstown, it's not a slap in the face of the industry," since energy companies can drill on land that is less densely populated.
"We're saying 'let's be responsible' about fracking,' " he said.
Zeller, also a chemistry professor, added that companies are not required to disclose the type and amount of chemicals they use during the hydraulic fracturing process, a method used to stimulate oil and gas production once a well is drilled.
"From a chemical standpoint, it might be safe to do fracking, but we don't know because they don't tell us," Zeller said. "In other countries, they do disclose what they put into the ground."
A consortium of business, community, political and labor leaders in the community -- including the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber and Mayor John McNally -- have mobilized against the measure and are urging voters to turn it down, decrying it as a "job killer."
But Beiersdorfer said a balance could be struck between job creation and the energy industry without hydraulic fracturing. More jobs, he insisted, are created through renewable energy efforts – solar power in particular – than oil and gas exploration.
"How does a new company bring new people in?" if the water is unsafe, property values plunge, and earthquakes reoccur because of the practice? he asked.
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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