Exhuming the Morgue: Fossil Fuel style


Over the past few years, the fossil-fuel debate has waged intensely in Athens County, with a bitter debate over the potential for oil and gas deep-shale drilling coming here, and the reality of several fracking waste injection wells already in the county.

But don't make the mistake of assuming this is anything new. Debates over natural resource extraction - mainly coal, but also oil - have been a constant in Athens County since at least the mid-'70s, and probably long before.

The Athens 'A' News cover with today's installment of "Exhuming the Morgue" is an apt confirmation of the fact that folks in Athens County have been up in arms about mining and drilling for a very long time.

As you can see, the Oct. 10, 1977, cover reads, "Coal Companies' Design for Athens County," with an illustration of a strip-mine operation destroying a Southeast Ohio valley.

The article leads with: "On Thursday, Sept. 29th, a large group of Athens County residents met at the Que Pasa coffee house to further develop strategy that will lead to the banning of strip mining in Athens County. At stake is a small (22.9-acre) portion of an 18,000-acre tract, covering most of Bern and Rome townships.

"The basic contention of the newly formed anti-stripping organization SORE (Save Our Rural Environment) is that the long-range effects of strip mining are far more disastrous to the environment that the immediate benefits of coal production…"

The main chunk of the story (it appears to be about 1,200 words) is an unattributed recitation of arguments against strip mining, with sections for "water," "ecology" and "safety." No arguments are presented in behalf of the practice.

In later years, we would have cleaned that up to attribute the anti-mining arguments to named sources, and gotten responsive comments from the state agencies regulating strip mining, the company proposing the strip mine, and, if possible, an industry group for coal mining.

After I became associate editor in 1986 and editor in 1987, The Athens NEWS covered several proposed coal mines in the county, both strip mines and deep mines (conventional and longwall). I did the reporting on most of those stories, including a proposed strip mine near the Sharpsburg mine covered in the 1977 story and an extensive longwall mine proposed by coal baron Bob Murray for a big section of Dover Township, just north of Athens.

One of the public hearings I covered was for that proposed longwall mine. Murray (who's still in the news these days) attended the hearing, in the City Council chambers at City hall. The room was packed with mainly opponents but also some supporters, and it would be difficult to find a wider range of people, both in appearance and ideological outlook. Coal miners/UMW members from Southern Ohio Coal in Meigs and Vinton counties sat a few feet away from back-to-the-land hippies (for lack of a better word), with all manner of Athens hipsters and activists in attendance.

As it turned out, Murray never started the mine, though at the time it didn't appear his reasoning had anything to do with the opposition.

As for the strip-mine proposal in the 1977 story, I'm not sure if that ever went forward. In any event, since the mid-'70s, no widespread strip mining has taken place in Athens County, nor much modern-day coal mining either. The big Southern Ohio Coal/AEP longwall mines in Meigs and Vinton counties shut down years ago.

The closest many that many young counter-culture Athenians ever got to a coal mine was skinny-dipping in old strip-mine pits in Meigs County (see former "Exhuming the Morgue" feature).

Load comments