Landowners: Fracking created toxic damage to land, water

7:51 AM, Jul 18, 2013   |    comments
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Who is monitoring oil and gas wells in Ohio?

It's supposed to be the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, but some landowners are unhappy with the ODNR's responsiveness when land or water gets contaminated through fracking.

The improper dumping of fracking waste is poisoning land and water in Ohio, and some property owners believe the state isn't doing nearly enough to crack down on those who are responsible for it.  

Harry Boyd, a former Akron resident, is one such landowner. He wanted a peaceful retreat and so he bought 110 acres in southeastern Ohio.

There were wells on the land and he was approached to lease a couple of them out. He chose to do so with a company called Appalachian Energy Resources, which is owned by Phil Billick, of Brecksville.  

Boyd would go on to accuse Billick of violating an agreement that Billick wouldn't dump contaminated water on his land. Billick blamed the dumping on a sub-contractor whom he later fired.  

But records show that Boyd's own wells on the same property were also slapped with state violations.  

When Boyd points to spots on his land where nothing will grow, he blames Billick for the mess.  

An inspector from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources saw the mess too, and issued four notices of violation.

Billick, who declined an on-camera interview, corrected the violations. But Boyd, who is now being sued by Billick for breach of contract, says the damage has been done.  

He says that when he picks up a chunk of earth, "It smells just like oil."  

Shawn Seitz, of Brunswick, bought 100 acres for recreation just down the road from Harry Boyd, also in Monroe County. He knew it had an oil well on it.

That well was owned by a man named Edmund Byers, and Byers assured Seitz that it was operated legally.  

After Seitz ended up with a rash after working on the land, he was concerned enough to call ODNR.  

"They came out and said the well was run illegally, 100 percent," says Seitz.  

State inspectors took water samples from Seitz's land and found toxins that indicate brine, or frack water, which contained chloride.

While a normal glass of drinking water has 250 milligrams of chloride, water from Seitz's stream had 86,000 milligrams.  

Yet there was no stiff fine or any penalty at all -- ODNR simply fired off some notices of violations.  

Byers declined comment.  

During all of last year, the state issued 250 notices of violations for fracking contamination, pollution and leaking.    

By far the worst case happened in Youngstown.

Gas driller Benedict Lupo was charged in February with dumping more than 20,000 gallons of fracking waste into the Mahoning River.  

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says charges were brought under federal law for a very good reason.  

"It's a misdemeanor under Ohio law," he said. "It should be a felony."  

Ohio property owners complain the state often doesn't use even its limited power to crack down on dumping.  

And the man who oversees oil and gas drilling for the state, Rick Simmers of the ODNR, says he's too busy to talk about it.  

Homeowners, however, are paying the price, and some of them are talking.  

As Shawn Seitz puts it, "I don't have enough money in my wallet to clean up what they did."  

This isn't just happening in the backwoods of Ohio, but in communities like North Royalton, Mayfield Heights and Broadview Heights.  

The latter city -- which is only 13 square miles -- is now studded with 90 wells. Many of them are located within a few hundred feet of people's homes.


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