Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District Threatened With Lawsuit Because of Gas Lease

As a result of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) board’s unanimous vote to approve the lease for horizontal high-volume fracturing (HHVF) of Seneca Reservoir in the area of Cambridge, Ohio last week, the co-founder of the citizens’ group, Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save Our Water (SOASOW), Lea Harper, pointed out that the conservancy district has placed itself in the crosshairs of a lawsuit. Lea read from a prepared statement at the Board meeting furnished by Bob Bowcock, lead environmental investigator for Erin Brockovich for the past 15 years, in which he noted that rivers, streams, ponds and lakes have been destroyed by subsurface infiltration of gas and oil byproducts as well as midnight dumping of oil field chemicals. Lea warned the conservancy district that they were not operating for public benefit by leasing public reservoirs for unconventional shale drilling. 
“We have worked long and hard to protect yet another public reservoir that has been needed for safe drinking water supplies from being leased for horizontal drilling,” stated Lea Harper. “The leasing of Seneca Lake to a company like Antero, with an extensive record of environmental pollution and USEPA violations and charges, is yet another reason why the MWCD is not fit to call itself a ‘conservancy’ or collect taxes from property owners to subsidize its operations.” Lea urges property owners in the area to obtain property appraisals and base line water testing for private wells that supply drinking water.
The citizens’ group is being supported by experts who agree that the MWCD is making a serious mistake by allowing horizontal drilling under public reservoirs. Paul Rubin, an expert witness in testimony to Governor Cuomo of New York regarding risks posed by HHVF to reservoirs states, “Actions taken now that lead to near future gas drilling near and beneath the Seneca Reservoir will lead to the degradation of groundwater, reservoir, and downstream water quality.As such, gas exploitation here is contrary to the stated deed reserve rights to the United States for recreation, conservation and reservoir development purposes.”
The Center for Biological Diversity issued a letter to the MWCD Board recommending strongly that the Antero lease not be approved for various reasons, emphasizing the detrimental impact to the environment and threatened or endangered species in the area. Tim Ream, attorney for the Center, wrote, “To proceed to frack beneath Seneca Lake and its environs would be reckless, and invites public health and environmental consequences which may cause great suffering and damage to property.”
Terry Lodge, attorney for Lea Harper and SOASOW, stated emphatically, “We see no concrete law or precedent that would allow a conservancy district in Ohio to operate in such a manner and still maintain ownership of public land and water along with the ability to tax for revenue. The MWCD’s justification for its very existence must now be put into serious question.”


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