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Ohio Department of Natural Resources: We’ll Let the Public Know What’s Happening After You Can No Longer Object

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By Dan, who lives in northeast Ohio.
Read more at here.

Lambert here: The ongoing transformation of “the heartland” into a second world petro-state has generated an increasingly intense civic engagement, as people try to “work the system” to protect their health, their land, and their water from the fracking industry and its supply chain. Here’s how civic engagement looks from the ground.

* * *

The fracking industry has dramatically increased its activity in Portage county recently. In some cases the activity is unmistakably tangible (more on that next week), but the real action at the moment seems to be preparing the ground for the deluge. The paperwork is coming in fast and furious, so much so that we are now one of the top ten counties in the state for fracking.

Those of us concerned about that have found using the tools theoretically available to us can be a daunting task. The attempt to learn more about the Soinski Wells really brought the point home. For instance, permit applications are supposed to be submitted to the largest local paper in the effected area. Instead they were published in the Portage County Legal News.

Let me tell you something about the Portage County Legal News: I cannot tell you anything about the Portage County Legal News. I have lived in Portage county all my life (minus two years) and until the Soinski Odyssey I had never heard of the Portage County Legal News. There is not even a print edition of the Portage County Legal News. The Portage County Legal News is the best kept secret in Portage county. Anyone who has lived here longer than a week could have told ODNR that the Record Courier is Portage county’s largest general circulation newspaper – with a print edition and everything.

A minor outcry ensued, and the applications went into the appropriate paper. Incidentally, this is now part of activists’ daily routine: checking the legal notices in the paper to see what latest outrage is planned. Similarly, learning how to read permits, pore over maps, check local leasing records, and so on are developing skill sets among activists. A big part of the fight involves eye glazing tedium. That’s not a complaint, just a description.

Several citizens contacted ODNR Geologist Tom Tomastik with questions. One was procedural – did the fifteen day public comment period begin on the applications date from the Portage County Legal News announcement or from their announcement in a proper outlet? But there were also questions on the details in the applications. There appeared to be some information missing in the application – there seemed to be more there on the ground than the application described. I emailed Tomastik on Sunday:

It is my understanding that there is supposed to be an informational meeting on the Portage county wells listed in the public notices below. I would like to get some clarification on this.

First of all, is it true that there will be a meeting?

If so, will the meeting be held during the public comment period? That would be the most useful; having it after would be like closing the barn door after the horse left.

Will this be a public hearing, or just an informational meeting? It would be much better to have an actual public hearing.

I urge you to hold any session at a time when the most people could attend: on a weekday evening or a weekend.

On Tuesday he responded:

Below is the link to the rules regarding public notice requirements for Class II injection well applications under Section 1501: 9-3-06 (E) (c) of the Ohio Administrative Code. Please read this section. No meeting is held until after the end of the public comment period. A Public Hearing is only required when the objections are relevant to public health, or safety, or good conservation practices. The chief of this Division rules upon the validity of each objection. Since we are receiving a number of comments regarding the Soinski applications, I have agreed to hold a public meeting to do a presentation about Class II injection well applications and answer questions regarding the public’s concerns.

http://www.ohiodnr.com/portals/11/oil/pdf/uic_emergency_rule_9-3-06.pdf

The “after the end of the public comment period” part really doesn’t seem good, so I responded:

I’d like some clarification on this, if possible. The greatest urgency in our community is right now – during the comment period. Being able to ask questions and (hopefully) get answers will help us to make more informed comments while the state is accepting them. The value of any additional information we learn will be greatly diminished once the comment period is over.

Would you please consider meeting with our community during this very brief and crucial window?

To which he responded the next day:

We are planning on having a public meeting after all comments are received and the deadline is passed. That is how the rules are set up under the Ohio Administrative Code, 1501: 9-3-06 (E) (c).

At that point it started getting difficult to give Mr. Tomastik the benefit of the doubt; his reply was completely unresponsive. I decided to give it one last try though:

Yes, I was clear on the rules and your intentions. My request was this: that you hold the public meeting during the comment period so citizens can make the most informed comments possible.

As far as I know you are not legally enjoined from doing this, and it would be of much greater value to the community. As I wrote before, having the meeting after the comment period smacks of closing the barn door after the horse is gone. We need to be able to ask questions now – during the comment period.

And that’s where we stand at the moment: going back and forth via email while the comment period moves to a close. This is your democracy on fracking, kids.

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15 comments

  1. bob

    The whole process was designed by the gas companies from the beginning. In NYS the “drilling unit” maps were drawn up by the gas industry years ago. All of the maps have the geologic “tilt” that the marcellus conforms to– NNW to SSE.

    Is it really gerrymandering when the pubilc was never meant to be involved?

    1. Susan the other

      China’s sovereign fund, our investment banks, South Korea and India; no doubt Japan too. And it is being pitched to us by Obama and Romney as a supply of natgas that will last us (the USA) 100 years. I would love to trust Obama, but his ability to twist reality is a real put-off.

  2. OMF

    And that’s where we stand at the moment: going back and forth via email while the comment period moves to a close. This is your democracy on fracking, kids.

    it is becoming increasingly clear that email, and indeed all things electronic, are not treated as written material. They are treated as being far more ephermeral—which indeed they are.

    In short, if you’re sending emails on a serious matter then you’re doing it wrong. You need to send your objections in writing; in a real, physical letter.

    And you need to request the same in return. They’ll spend a lot more time drafting a letter that’s going to be incarnated in the physical, no-delete-key-takebacksies world. Serious business can rarely be conducted via email.

    1. Dan

      Depends on the situation. In cases where the process works a little more slowly, that’s doable – and we’re doing it. We’ve been sending letters with return receipts requested, and hanging on to the receipts, for certain kinds of permits.

      When the process is months long, that works. When you have 15 days starting from publication in the paper, it’s a heck of a lot harder to do. It certainly isn’t possible to have multiple exchanges like I’ve had via email.

  3. Jill

    Dan,

    Thank you and all those who are working with you. This has taken so much thought, it has taken the willingness to learn about things that most of us don’t understand, and would have difficulty understanding.

    I am sorry that you have received such disengenous reponses. I will also contact Mr. Tomastik. He should know that many of us find his behavior appalling. I will be polite and I will reinforce the idea that he can do this meeting.

    Keep it up!

    1. Dan

      Thanks much for the kind words and encouragement, Jill. We’re settled in for the long haul, and we don’t discourage worth a damn.

  4. Jill

    Dan, Here’s what I wrote. I’m including his e-mail in case others would like to write as well:

    Dear Mr. Tomastik,

    After reading about your refusal to grant a public meeting before deciding on the go ahead to fracking in Portage county, I would like to ask you to reconsider your refusal.

    If you refuse to allow this meeting would you give a clear statement as to why? I have already read that you are not legally required to do so. That isn’t the point. You have the power and ability to do so and I am requesting, as your fellow Ohioan, that you do so forthwith.

    The story of the request for a basic public meeting (and your refusal to schedule it) is in a national blog. This blog is called: naked capitalism. It has many readers.

    Thank you,

    Jill

    tom.tomastik@dnr.state.oh.us

  5. El Snarko

    As a resident of Dayton this sounds about right. I know a guy deeply involved in the alternate energy quest, and about five months ago he attended a large meeting in Columbus. The message returned fromthe state was “Fracking WILL” happen. Period. We need the money.

    That this is the attitude in a state in which the State Supreme Court has said the funding mechanism of schools was unconstitutional in 1997, with NO changes of substance, is not a surprise. There is colossal foot dragging and frankly, enormous institutional inertia to be overcome in incorporating any initiative that is not enhanced by financial prelubrication of the mechanism.

    An anecdote: Four years ago a group of four of us spent about 30 hours collectively creating a proposal for effectively regulating housing code enforcement and rental agreements. This included things like presale inspections ect. Anyway we had a meeting with the mayor, three department heads, and the most supposedly input friendly cith commissioner. We got bubkis. Nada. Earnest yawns. I’ll get back to ya. A year later I emaile the commissioner just to jangle her chain, since they had just been at another of our meetings. The reply was…OH, YOu mean youwanted a response?!?!?

    And make no mistake.Profit is the whole of the law.Not yours. Theirs!

  6. banger

    After 9/11 rule-of-law and the Constitution began to pass from the face of history in this country. The current situation is simple. The oligarchs have decided they need natural gas and that’s it. They rule by decree or close to it. You saw this really clearly at both political conventions when the rules were ignored by the Rs by denying Ron Paul delegates the right to vote for their candidate (and other minor bs) and the Ds in ramming through God and Israel despite major opposition by delegates. Bit by bit, we are becoming subjects not citizens of an Empire governed by a virtual committee of oligarchs.

  7. Schofield

    Well shoot. You keep on voting these Republicans and Democrats into office. How many times do you have to be whacked round the head to realise that the politicians in these parties are running a career not a democracy?

  8. BearCountry

    The rules are written by the frackers or their proponents. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the people want because they have no real voice. The monied interests hold sway. The Constitution is retained as a facade

  9. Stan Musical

    Nice to see a post relating to the absolute context of our economy, our planet’s paint-thin coating of life.

    Rare that even those on the left question the “growth” model, especially surprising if they’ve experienced cancer first- or second-hand…..or really thought about it a bit, I guess.

    Denial is a powerful thing. So I for one welcome more posts and debate on the essential anti-environmental nature of our economic system and what we might do to change it before we frack our natural environment up even more.

  10. Steven L Cochran, MD

    Tom Tomastick from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is an interesting guy. He came to participate in a discussion on fracking earlier this year in Akron. We also had a shill from the drilling industry (he didn’t even try to pretend to be honest), a retired physician there to discuss the potential toxic effects of exposure to some of the fracking fluids, and a woman who was an environmental activist (and who made mince meat out of some of the absurd claims of the industry shill).
    I assumed that Tom, being “our employee” as a government official, would bring balance and enlightenment to the two sides of the issue: the financial rewards of fracking for gas vs. the potential harm to the environment and the public’s health. My bad. Tom made it perfectly clear his only intent was to further the interests of the drilling industry and that nothing else was of any importance. The way you have been treated reflects his disregard for the citizens of Ohio. Good luck!

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