Friday, March 16, 2012


Holding elective office can be an ego fulfilling and a generally heady experience.

But it can also be a nightmare!

Because when a calamity happens, it is to elected officials and their top appointees (e.g. directors, chiefs, et cetera) that the public turn to for swift response and effective action.

And they had better have answers!

None of us will forget the immediate days of post-Katrina (2005) the then-President George W. Bush was on television with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Chief Mike Brown saying:  "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job."

Within ten days it became apparent that "Brownie" was not doing a heckuva job and he was abruptly fired by the politician Bush.

Bush likely was fortunate that Katrina did not happen one year earlier or we might well have been talking in 2005 about President John Kerry.

Right now, from Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich down through Democratic Canton Mayor William J. Healy, II; (the self-proclaimer of Canton being "The Utica Capital") are examples of public officials governing within the Marcellus and Utica Shale fields being ga-ga over the  potential jobs and concomitant tax revenues that may be on their way to all levels of state and local government as the oil and gas industry rushes to get up and running with what is called a "fracking" drilling operation to free natural gas encased in the shale.

Because of "the great recession" that began at the end of the Bush years in 2008 and have continued through the Obama administration, government budgets across American have had shortfall after shortfall after shortfall including, of course, Ohio; perhaps worse than other parts of the country.

It is likely that the political need to escape the "doom and gloom" is causative of Kasich, Healy and their like not focusing much on the environmental disaster or two, or three that surely lurk just over the horizon once fracking hits full bore, if not before.

A DeepWater Horizon oil well exploding in the Gulf of Mexico (April 20, 2010), was a shock to Americans in that the industry could not figure out until September 19, 2010 a way to stop the oil leaking from the damaged well that played havoc with the Gulf ecosystem (and the resort economy) including the shorelines of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

It seems highly unlikely that something of the magnitude of Deep Water Horizon could happen from a fracking accident, but nobody really knows.

Recently, the SCPR spoke with a Stark County fire chief who is alarmed that with the onset of fracking in Stark (which the last that The Report knew consists of three wells so far) that little if any fracking well disaster preparedness has occurred.

One Stark County official (unelected) has been trying.  Stark County Local Emergency Planning Committee Director Don McDonald (a former fire captain from Jackson Township) set up a meeting scheduled for this past Saturday (March 10, 2012) at Stark State College, to wit: 

From: SCLEPC []

Sent: Monday, January 23, 2012 12:14 PM

To: ...

Save the date: March 10, 2012

From: Don McDonald – Program Director Stark County LEPC

A ½ day (morning) Symposium on Natural Resources and Deep Well Development will be conducted on Saturday, March 10 at Stark State College.

Scheduled presenters include representatives from The Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Educational Program (OOGEEP), The Ohio Dept of Natural Resources (ODNR), The Ohio EPA, the Battelle
Corp. and others.  Our intended audience will include elected officials from the county, cities, villages, and townships as well as the fire and police chiefs serving those communities.

This is not a 1st responder training event.  The symposium is intended to provide unbiased information on the issue of hydraulic fracturing to all of these officials so that they may have accurate information to provide to their constituents and to use in policy making decisions that may be impacted by this issue.

More information will be provided in the very near future.  Attendance to this symposium will be by invitation only.  Please save this date as this symposium will be both timely and informative to you and your staff.

Thank you for your time,

Don McDonald, Contact person for the Symposium Planning Committee

Office: 330-451-3907

Good effort, Don McDonald.

But the planned March 10th event never happened.

Why not?

It appears to the SCPR for three reasons.

First, it seems that a number of Stark County elected officials took offense (led, in the opinion of The Report by Plain Township trustee Louis Giavasis) as what they deemed to have been an overreach by McDonald and the "symposium committee" consisting of:
  • McDonald, (program director of SCLEPC)
  • Representative Christina Hagan, (Republican - 50th House District)
  • Fred Bertram, (Dean at Stark State College [SSC], teaches hazardous materials course)
  • Ted Heck, (former Jackson fire chief, teaches at SSC)
  • Art Murdoch, (chairman of SCLEPC)
  • Lance Wilcox,  (VP - Mr Rapid - emergency cleanup services)
  • Bart Ray, (Special Investigator / On-scene Coordinator, Ohio EPA)
  • Barb Stoll, (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Ohio)
  • Jack Liberator, (Canton Township Fire Dept., - deputy chief)
Second, some interested parties (most Stark County environmentalists) did not think the make up of the presenters of the planned symposium was "unbiased" as advertised, to wit:
Scheduled presenters include representatives from The Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Educational Program (OOGEEP), The Ohio Dept of Natural Resources (ODNR), The Ohio EPA, the Battelle
Corp. and others.
The symposium is intended to provide unbiased information on the issue of hydraulic fracturing to all of these officials so that they may have accurate information to provide to their constituents and to use in policy making decisions that may be impacted by this issue. (emphasis added)
Third, the symposium notice contained "This is not a 1st responder training event."  Really?  Isn't preparing/supporting first responders the first and perhaps only mission of SCLEPC?

In any event, McDonald tells the SCPR that no replacement of the March 10th cancellation will be generated by SCLEPC.  He says that the only thing planned by his organization is to develop opportunities for first responders to have emergency preparedness specific to a fracking accident.

He declined to answer the SCPR's question as to whether or not he had been pressured by Stark County elected officials and their chief appointed fire, police and EMS to call the event off.

The SCPR is convinced that this is exactly what happened.

And that is all well and good, but what do these same officials have in mind in order to get Stark County's first responders to handle a catatrophic-esque fracking event when it happens.

Stark County Engineer Keith Bennett is an example of a local government official who has anticipated the taxing impact that the heavy trucks used in fracking operations will have on Stark County roads.

A week or so ago Engineer Bennett told the SCPR in an interview that there have been instances where these trucks have damaged county roads.  However, do to his anticipation that such would be the case, he has put together an agreement consistent with state of Ohio standards that he requires fracking operators to sign off on before putting their trucks on county roads.

Only oil and gas industry folks and overly optimistic public officials fixed on the financial cure that fracking MIGHT bring to Stark's local governments (the State of Ohio, in the case of Governor Kasich) believe that thousands upon thousands of wells can be drilled without a major, major problem erupting.

The SCPR believes the Stark County fire chief who is concerned about the utter lack of training for first responders to be prepared for and equipped to deal with a disaster when it comes.   The chief agrees with The Report that it is not IF but WHEN.  Moreover, he is concerned as to whether or not the frackers are going to try to stick the tax paying public with the expense of dealing with malfunctioning wells.

The fire chief and Engineer Bennett are examples of local government officials who are doing their respective jobs the way all public officials should be be doing them:  anticipating that there will be problems, identify as precisely as possible as to what they may be, prepare for them and insist that other levels of government facilitate and empower them to deal with the expected problems in an effective manner.

The Report is told by Trustee Giavasis that when an accident occurs, neither first responders nor SCLEPC will be allowed by drillers/well lessees onto the site of the problem initially.

Only when first responders are invited to deal with the calamity by the lessees, can they do anything but deal with off well site problems that threaten residents in those areas.

Many Stark Countians, including yours truly, are reconciled to the reality that fracking is going to happen.

But what we are not comfortable with include:
  • the state of Ohio not empowering local emergency forces and local hazardous materials organizations (i.e. LEPCs) to have immediate access to a disaster site,
  • the state of Ohio not setting aside funding for forums/hands-on-training-exercises to be utilized by first responders so that they can develop techniques and strategies for coping with a real event,
  • the state of Ohio making lessees, operators, drillers and other participants in fracking operations Responsible Parties in terms of indemnification to local governments  which initially bear the cost of calamity remediation,
  • the state of Ohio requiring Responsible Parties to carry insurances and bonding at levels that will provide for the indemnification of local governments for the injury to public resources (e.g. potable water, et cetera) and also for individual property owners who sustain injury and damage,
  • the Stark County Local Emergency Planning Committee being behind in developing resources and training opportunities for first responders so that they can prepared for a serious fracking mishaps as they occur.
It has come to light that injection wells used to dispose of chemical ladened fracking well waste water was responsible for a series of earthquake tremors that afflicted the Youngstown area recently.

We all remember how the first suggestions of such were laughed off by oil and gas industry principals and their cheerleaders.

But they aren't laughing anymore.

Nor will oil and gas industry officials nor unresponsive public officials be laughing when a fracking disaster strikes and they have to face an outraged public demanding to know why local governments and their first responders were not empowered, prepared, trained and equipped to deal immediately and effectively with an environmental calamity.

"Woe is me!" will be the cry of a public official who is shown to have not put "oil in the lamp" of his/her community in preparation for the inevitable fracking problems which will buffeting our communities in the years to come.

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