The Athens County Fracking Action Network has announced plans to bring the issue of a lack of public hearing on an injection well in Rome Township to the Athens County Commissioners Tuesday.
At issue is a pending state permit application for an injection well that would accept waste brine from oil-and-gas drilling operations. The well has been proposed by the company D.T. Atha, Inc., based in Sugar Grove, Ohio.
The public comment period for the well closed Sept. 17. A news released from ACFAN said that now, 30 days on, the period in which Ohio's Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management should have responded to valid objections has passed.
"Citizens have received no indication that the Chief, required to evaluate the validity of objections, has even read the dozens of formal comments we know him to have received," the release said. "Instead, a form letter was sent to complainants announcing that a public meeting will be held rather than the public hearing required by law if valid objections concerning public health and safety and conservation are received."
The county commissioners also have reportedly received this same form letter indicating a public meeting instead of a public hearing. By Ohio law, the group stressed, a public hearing is required.
A geologist working for the state, Tom Tomastik, responded to one citizen who expressed concern about the lack of a hearing by writing and explaining the state's process. (His letter was quoted in the Athens County Fracking Action Network news release about this Tuesday's meeting with the county commissioners.)
"This means if there is an objection based upon health and safety, the chief evaluates the objection," Tomastik wrote the citizen. "If the chief determines that additional testing or evaluations can address the relevant health and safety objections, then those provisions and conditions to a permit will be attached. This means that there is no longer any 'relevant' objection to health and safety as it has been addressed by terms and conditions to a permit. No public hearing is required."
The ACFAN said that Tomastik seems to be making a leap from the idea that concerns can be addressed with "terms and conditions" to a conclusion that there's no longer any relevant objection. They questioned whether the chief has even read the objections, let along evaluated their legitimacy.
"DOGRM is a rogue agency running roughshod over the law, public process, and this public agency's duty to serve the public interest," charged Roxanne Groff in the news release.
A former Athens County commissioner, Groff has been calling and writing the division's chief, James Zehringer, daily, regarding what her group terms the inadequacy of the agency's responses to the scores of formal comments on the Atha permit application.
"The chief cannot just disregard the extensive and highly specific and relevant factual and science-based objections that we know have been raised. To do so is to completely ignore the governing statutes of his agency," she said in the release.