If there is one place in Ohio where the spirit of the 1960s is still alive, it is Athens County. While the rest of the United States has moved on from that period of time, there are still those in Athens who believe doing things like chaining yourself to fences is a perfectly sane action to take when things don’t go your way. In that unfortunate tradition, yesterday marked the fourth time in less than two years that activists from Appalachian Resist attempted to block normal legal business proceedings from taking place at Class II UIC wells in southeastern Ohio.
Most are familiar with the GreenHunter disruption in Washington County a couple of years ago, where activists terrorized employees by storming their office, clogging toilets and throwing papers throughout the office (remember, these are the same people who claim to own “the science” on fracking). The group also displayed banners and set up a monopod to ensure no business could take place that day, causing work to stand still while the Washington County sheriff’s department broke up the protest. Eventually ten people were arrested, with six of those individuals naturally being from out of state.
What makes yesterday’s event interesting, however, is prior to the protest, Madeline ffitch (yes, that is the correct spelling), the leader of Ohio’s Appalachian Resist, sent out a press release calling for the U.S. EPA to take over Ohio’s Class II UIC program and alluding to the premeditatedtrespassing.
Madeline ffitch, of Appalachia Resist! remarked, “When state regulators prioritize corporate out-of-state profits over the health of local people, repeatedly ignoring our concerns, this is the sort of behavior that pushes local people to enact civil disobedience and direct action in order to be heard. We will continue to appeal through conventional avenues of redress, but cannot afford to wait any longer to take action.”
Some may remember Ms. ffitch from when she chained herself to two cement barrels at the entrance of another Class II UIC well facility in Athens County, causing law enforcement to travel from Columbus to attempt to free her from her dangerous contraption. Ms. ffitch was charged with a felony for inducing panic, although those charges were reduced to a slap on the wrist by an Athens County judge.
Less than 24 hours after the press release, one of Ms. ffitch’s cohorts Crissa Cummings chained herself to the gate of the K&H 2 injection well in Torch, Ohio. In her statement to the media, Ms. Cummings said:
“In light of the recent studies that have linked fracking chemicals to birth defects, I feel sick when I think about all the babies and the pregnant friends that were protesting at this site in February, a couple of weeks after the brine spill.”
There is one problem with Ms. Cummings comment (to say nothing of her dangerous actions): it just simply isn’t true. While there was an activist study claiming birth defects in Colorado, it was quickly denounced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment executive director and chief medical officer Dr. Larry Wolk. Their investigation looked at each reported case and found no conclusive link to fracking, and in fact cautioned the public against relying on the inflammatory study. This information may have been very helpful to Ms. Cummings before she was compelled to handcuff herself to a gate and face charges of trespassing.
After causing the business to be shut down for most of the day, Ms. Cummings was arrested and charged with trespassing. She was released on her own recognizance and has to appear at the Athens County Courthouse today.
We can all have a civil conversation about the benefits and risks of shale development, and there is plenty of room for disagreement. For some, the jobs and economic activity being spurred by shale development will never outweigh the potential for environmental impacts. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of “pro” or “anti” shale, we can likely all agree that the best path forward does not involve trespassing and creating safety hazards for hardworking men and women simply trying to provide for their families.