Photo Caption: Sean Pavlac raises his cuffed arms into the air as protesters cheer his efforts to block access to the K & H Partners injection well site in Coolville Saturday.
A peaceful protest at an eastern Athens County fracking waste disposal site ended with eight arrests Saturday after protesters blocked the driveway into the site. At least two trucks apparently carrying what the protesters called "toxic frack waste" had to be diverted around the blockade.
An operational waste injection well is located at the site (located on West Belpre Pike Road, Coolville), and a second waste site recently received a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Area fracking opponents have tried, thus far unsuccessfully, to appeal the permit.
Although the eight protesters were charged with trespassing by the Athens County Sheriff's Office, onlookers described the arrests as "calm and dignified."
The eight, which included several notable figures in the local sustainable food community, were reportedly released at 8 p.m. Saturday night. Their names, as listed on Athens County Sheriff Pat Kelly's Facebook page, are at the end of this article. They are reportedly scheduled for a hearing in Athens County Municipal Court Monday morning. A protest rally also is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. in front of the Athens County Courthouse, where the arrested protesters are expected to give statements.
The two-hour protest, organized by Appalachia Resist and the Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN), was supported by more than 150 Athens, Torch and Coolville residents, according to a news release from the two groups. With sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement observing the protest from the beginning, they monitored the situation calmly, only stepping in after the blockade proved to be an issue.
The protest site was near a rest area on U.S. Rt. 50 that contains a Class II drilling-waste injection well and waste tanks owned and operated by K&H Partners of West Virginia.
Protesters disapprove of that injection well, and oppose the permitting of the second one.
The protesters arrived at the site in waves, displaying signs outside the gate and singing protest songs. Many of them car-pooled from Athens after meeting at the West State Street ball fields earlier Saturday afternoon. Organized chants were also heard, including the demonstration's slogan: "Our water, our lives! Their poison, their lies!"
Amplified speaking to the assembly was encouraged, and many concerned citizens took the chance to air their opinions with the provided megaphone.
"We recognize that this place has come to be regarded as the dumping grounds for industry," said Brandon Jaeger, co-owner of Shagbark Seed & Mill Co. in Athens. "Even if you're pro-fracking, we have to be vigilant about taking care of our water and making sure that our elected officials… are protecting us," he said.
In between speakers, protesters sang traditional protest songs, such as "We Shall Overcome," from provided lyric sheets. Some protesters brought guitars, harmonicas, small drums and other various instruments as well.
A common theme in most speeches was the effect fracking and its waste disposal will have on future generations.
"Our children are going to look back on us and think we were shortsighted and ignorant," said Warren Taylor, of Snowville Creamery in Meigs County.
Many of those children accompanied their parents at the protest, waving signs with slogans such as "Inject love, not poison," and playing with one another as protesters took turns speaking. At one point, parents had all of the children in attendance take a picture with the protest blockade that barred entry into the site.
Support for the cause also came from drivers passing by who honked their support and stopped to take photos or video of the group. Although a handful of passing groups displayed hostility toward the protestors, no arguments broke out. The cheers coming from the group sounded the loudest when trucks filled with fracking waste drove past the driveway.
Many representatives of the Athens and southeast Ohio area's sustainable food economy took part in the protest, highlighting the negative impact that fracking has on groundwater and agricultural products.
While no fracking (horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas) per se is happening in Athens County, the county has several fracking waste injection wells, and deep-shale drilling is ramping up in neighboring Washington County, no more than 15 miles from where Saturday's protest took place.
"People are moving here to take part in the economy, and it's hard for them to with these fracking sites," said an unidentified protester.
Pollution of local water sources from injection wells was a main concern of protesters.
"We're compromising two of the most beautiful aquifers in the United States of America that are under our ground here," said Taylor. "We should be ashamed of ourselves if we let this happen."
The call for new congressional representation resounded throughout the crowd, as many speakers urged attendees to write their congressmen and show their dissatisfaction when voting later this year.
Former Athens County Commissioner Roxanne Groff, an active member of ACFAN, emphasized educating others on the dangers of fracking to drum up support for the cause.
"I'm trying to help to educate the public that it's our responsibility … to speak out and speak up and educate each other and our legislators," said Groff. "Athens Countians are becoming aware."
The eight protesters who were arrested at the end of the protest are expected to make statements upon their release, a news release from the two protest groups stated Saturday night.
IN EARLY JANUARY, the Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) announced in a news release that it had filed an appeal of a well permit issued by the ODNR's Division of Oil and Gas, for the second proposed K&H fracking waste injection well off of U.S. Rt. 50.
In early December, the ODNR approved the Torch-area well, though the permit granted to the West Virginia-based K&H Partners allowed the company only to drill and test the well. K&H will need a second permit before it can open the well to accept wastes.
Last Monday, however, the Ohio Attorney General's Office asked the Ohio Oil & Gas Commission to dismiss the appeal, claiming that the commission has no jurisdiction to hear the appeal.
In an email on Jan. 10, ODNR spokesperson Mark Bruce cited various sections of Ohio Revised Code in making the case that such an appeal is not allowable.
"A permit to drill is, by law, not appealable," he said in an email.
He first cited ORC section 1509.36, which states in part, "…an order by the chief of the division of oil and gas resources management may appeal…" He then quoted section ORC 1509.06, which states in part that "the issuance of a permit shall not be considered an order by the chief."
Bruce added in the email: "Further, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in January of 2013 that a drilling permit is not appealable to the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission. The permit issued to K&H Partners is a permit to drill. The company still must obtain a permit by order to operate the well."
With regard to the BFC and the concerns stemming from K&H's first injection well in the Torch area, Bruce said that the well in question has had no violations issued by ODNR since it went into operation.
"ODNR's permitting and inspection processes and Ohio's laws and rules regarding underground injection control are some of the most comprehensive in the country," Bruce said.
According to Sheriff Kelly, those arrested Saturday at the protest included More (Smiles) Welch, 35 of Athens; Sean Pavlac, 26 of Cleveland; Caprice Huffman, 61, of Sunbury, Ohio; Gilbert (Kip) Rondy, 64 of Amesville; Michelle Ajamian, 61, of Millfield; Christine Hughes, 44, of Athens; Timothy Fultz, 27, of Athens; and Elizabeth Florentino, 45, of Athens.
Rondy is co-owner of Green Edge Gardens in Amesville; Ajamian, as stated previously, co-owns Shagbark Seed & Mill; and Christine Hughes owns Village Bakery and others food businesses in Athens. All have been outspoken critics of fracking. The others, according to the protest groups, are involved in the local food economy in one way or another.