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Wednesday, February 20,2013

Athens Countians charged in Marietta-area anti-frack protest

By Jim Phillips

Photo Caption: Above, a photo of the protest provided by Appalachia Resist!

An Athens County man who belongs to a group that's fighting to stop "fracking" for oil and gas, as well as storage of drilling wastewater in the region, was arrested after he stopped trucks carrying such waste from entering a site near Marietta, Ohio, for several hours Tuesday.

Nate Ebert, 33, who belongs to the environmental group Appalachia Resist!, reportedly climbed a 30-foot pole attached to a brine truck, at a fracking wastewater storage site operated at New Matamoros, Ohio, by the Texas-based Greenhunter Water, LLC. New Matamoros is about 30 miles northeast of Marietta, on the Ohio River.

The company has indicated it plans to pursue "all legal remedies" it can against the protesters who were arrested at the event. Ebert was one of about 100 people who showed up to the site reportedly wearing "hazmat" suits and respirators; according to a report in the Marietta Anchor News, some of the demonstrators, apparently bearing donuts for company employees, entered an office and distracted workers long enough for other protesters to set up Ebert's climbing pole outside.

According to the Washington County Sheriff's Office, Ebert, who gave a Millfield (Athens County) home address, was one of 10 people arrested, two others of whom – Seth Schlotterbeck and Patrick Perry – gave their addresses as Athens.

Ebert was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest, the source at the sheriff's office said, while the others were charged only with trespassing. All were due to make an initial court appearance in Washington County Municipal Court Wednesday morning.

According to Madeline ffitch, an Athens County-based activist who took part in the protest but was not arrested, all the arrestees spent the night in jail, and were released after making their court appearances Wednesday morning. Ebert has a March 5 court date.

Early Wednesday morning, Greenhunter Energy, parent company of Greenhunter Water, put out a news release on its website about the action, portraying it as having their facility "held hostage by protestors."

The actions of the demonstrators, the release said, "forced the company to completely shut down the facility for approximately six hours today before police from a number of different agencies throughout the state of Ohio arrived and forcibly removed the protestors from GreenHunter Water's property."

The release claimed that those arrested may face felony charges under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act. After the protesters were removed, according to the release, "full business operations were restored," and the company is not aware of any physical damage to its property or equipment from the protest.

"The Company has hired legal counsel and plans to pursue all legal remedies available under the law against those individuals and organizations that were involved in today's illegal activities," the release warned.

Ebert's action Tuesday was part of a protest at the site involving more than 100 demonstrators from groups including Earth First! and Appalachia Resist!

The demonstration was meant to protest Greenhunter's plans to increase capacity for toxic fracking waste dumping in Ohio. According to Appalachia Resist!, the company is seeking approval from the U.S. Coast Guard to ship fracking waste across the Ohio River via barge at a rate of up to half a million gallons per load.

The opponents of the move argue that this would expose the Ohio River, which provides drinking water for millions of people, to possible contamination by toxics that, according to an Appalachia Resist! news release, include "benzene, toluene, arsenic, barium, and radium, among other carcinogenic and radioactive chemicals."

Ebert is quoted in the release as alleging, "Our governor, Legislature and regulatory agencies have all failed in their obligation to protect Ohioans from the predatory gas industry. Greenhunter wants to use our water sources as dumping grounds for their toxic, radioactive waste. We are here to send a message that the people of Ohio and Appalachia will not sit idly by and watch our homes be turned into a sacrifice zone!"

Jonathan Hoopes, president and CEOO of Greenhunter Energy, parent company of Greenhunter Water, told The Athens NEWS Wednesday that he believes the protesters are badly misgauging the level of risk involved in what his company is proposing.

"I think they need to get their facts straight, for starters," Hoopes said. He said that environmental regulators from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have designated fracking brine as non-hazardous waste, and also noted that such waste is already coming into Ohio on trucks.

Hoopes argued that the Ohio River is already carrying plenty of barges hauling material more dangerous than fracking brine.

For many years, he said, products have been put on that river "that are extremely, extremely hazardous." (The original version of this article used a quote that incorrectly suggested that Greenhunter Energy had been putting dangerous products on the river; that's not the case. The company hasn't barged anything on the Ohio River yet.)

Hoopes added that in the opinion of his company, a great expansion of fracking in Ohio is going to happen no matter how much it's protested, and this means that facilities like Greenhunter Water's in New Matamoros – which is basically a holding facility for brine before it's shipped to underground injection wells – will be needed.

"There is, in our estimation, no turning back," Hoopes said. Calling the oil and gas in underground shale beds "a very, very robust resource," he argued that further exploitation is inevitable.

"It's going to happen, regardless," he predicted.

FFITCH OF APPALACHIA RESIST! SAID Wednesday that she's tired of hearing industry representatives claim fracking waste is non-hazardous.

"I wish they would think of something better to say, because that is not true," she declared.

Ffitch herself was arrested last June after chaining herself down at an Albany-area injection well as a protest. Regarding Greenhunter's dire warnings that it will pursue legal action against the protesters, she said, "I really wish they would put that energy toward being honest about what is in that toxic waste."

Other groups that took part in Tuesday's action, according to the release from Appalachia Resist!, include Tar Sands Blockade, Radical Action for Mountain Peoples' Survival (RAMPS), a coalition of indigenous leaders including representatives from No Line 9 and the Unis'tot'en Camp, Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, and Earth First! chapters from across the country. The group called Tuesday's action "the latest in a series of escalated acts of resistance to destructive extractive industries."

According to the Washington County Sheriff's Office, others arrested at the action included people who gave home addresses ranging from Montana to Florida to Beverly Hills, Calif.


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