Establishing a Low-Cost, Sustainable Environmental Monitoring Program

Barnesville, Ohio

Featured image for the project, Establishing a Low-Cost, Sustainable Environmental Monitoring Program

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Results

The Team

  • Jill Hunkler, Community Lead, [email protected]
  • Dr. John Stolz, Director, Center of Environmental Research and Education Duquesne University, Scientific Lead : [email protected]

The Challenge

The original goal was to educate communities about the risks to the area from the rapidly expanding fracking industry, and to also establish a water monitoring program due to threats to Barnesville’s water supply from fracking. The team allowed their goals to shift as events transpired in the area, including a blowout at a fracking well pad that resulted in a brine and gas plume that lasted over twenty days. This event changed their water sampling goal from testing drinking water to testing the creek water near the well pad site. Further, due to the discovery that several fracking waste water injection wells had been permitted within close proximity to Barnesville, they organized and held a public information hearing.

 

The Methods

The project outcomes were guided by the specific environmental issues related to unconventional oil and gas development in southeastern Ohio. Publish forums were established as the most direct way of addressing the concerns of people living in the area.

Community input was obtained through social media and a local network of people. For water quality assessment, John Stolz did sampling and analysis.

The team met in person on average every few months. They kept in contact on a regular basis through phone calls and email. Time commitments varied depending on what aspect of the project they were working on. Further, the regularly scheduled check-ins with Thriving Earth Exchange were very helpful.

 

The Results

Some of the outputs that were built and delivered through this project include:

Environmental Community Science Meeting with almost 150 people in attendance and organized by the Barnesville Thriving Earth Exchange Project. Photo Credit- Jill Hunkler, 1 July 2019

Many residents attended the aforementioned events, thereby educated and empowered to take action. Knowledge is power and the team has seen members of local communities take action in the form of contacting local officials, regulatory agencies, legislators, and even the Governor asking for protection from the environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas development.

Allowing for flexibility in their outcome/goals was a definite benefit to the project. They were able to offer support to impacted communities on crucial issues they were facing and the team received encouraging feedback and gratitude for these efforts.

 

Reflections

The connections the community had before the project began, with a large range of individuals including those in the local community, environmental groups, and media, allowed for this project to be more impactful. Dr. Stolz’s expertise and research on fracking waste water, and his ability to share his wisdom it in a way that is understandable to all, made a huge contribution to our success.

If the team were to do this project again, they might find more time to offer additional meetings and educational opportunities.  For those pursuing similar community science projects, the team advises others to know the crucial issues facing the community you will be working with and choose your goals based on the needs of the people.

 

Description

Barnesville is a small town located in the Southwest portion of Belmont County, Ohio. The landscape is dominated by farmland and back country roads.

 

The 5,000 people living in the town have few economic opportunities and those with medium to high paying jobs are reliant on the local coal industry. Recent development of unconventional natural gas infrastructure has brought opportunity for some and fear for others.  Many large landowners have benefited from the leases held with the natural gas companies. However, these new-found income sources have many concerned about the local environmental and health impacts.

 

A number of incidents have highlighted the risks associated with the oil and gas operations in Barnesville. A trucking accident resulted in the spilling of 5,000 gallons of fracking fluid into the Barnesville reservoir, ending in the shutdown of the town’s water main reservoir for months. The reservoirs also suffered from significant water pumping causing a severe depletion of the local drinking water source. Air quality has also arisen as a point of concern with local medical providers noting a rise in respiratory health issues. Another health concern is the growing level of radiation appearing in water, soil and air. The cumulative threats to and from water, air, and radiation have led to significant fear in the community.

 

John Stolz will work to establish a baseline of water data available from a partner organization. He will compile that water testing information and assist in the creation of an action plan for the community to take part in.  This “Action plan” would institute regular water testing that is deemed relevant to the impacts of natural gas drilling as well as the creation of a database in which to store this information.

 

In conjunction with water testing, Stolz would assist Jill Hunkler in providing residents of Barnesville with scientifically accurate information about the risks of unconventional natural gas drilling.

 

Ideally, Stolz can help establish a low-cost, sustainable environmental monitoring program for Barnesville.  

Contact

Jill Hunkler will serve as the main contact and will serve as the community lead. She will be supported by a pre-established coalition of local residents (maintained through an active social media presence). Jill has already established a robust network of local leaders and residents in Barnesville that can be brought into future meetings.

Updates

Empowering Communities Affected by Fracking

Residents gain knowledge and credibility in quest to understand the effects of unconventional oil and gas development

 

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a topic that has divided residents across many U.S. communities over the past decade. Fear is often at the heart of these divisions—fear that oil and gas development activities will disrupt residents’ lives, pollute their environment and threaten their health. Perhaps greatest of all is the fear that these impacts will occur without anyone documenting them or holding responsible parties to account.

In 2017, Thriving Earth Exchange launched a cohort of projects designed to address community concerns over hydraulic fracturing. By pairing community members with scientists experienced in environmental assessment, the projects aimed to help communities address their fears by equipping them with the tools and knowledge to understand whether, and how, oil and gas development might affect their environment and health.

As two of the projects wrap up, participants reflect on how community-scientist collaborations can take on seemingly insurmountable problems, even helping small communities feel powerful in the face of Goliaths like major energy companies. While fracking continues to affect their lives, residents report a greater sense of empowerment and confidence in their ability to protect and improve their communities.

 

Unexpected events intensify monitoring needs in Barnesville, Ohio

Jill Hunkler, community lead for the project in Barnesville, Ohio, had serious concerns about the expanding fracking industry around her town. “Finding out that, on average, it takes 11 million gallons of water to frack one well, and that [the water] is then permanently contaminated with toxic chemicals, was terrifying,” she says. “I became a leader to protect my family, community, and land, air, and water that is so valued and loved.”

The community was matched with John Stolz, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University. Early on, the team identified water quality as a primary concern. They decided that Hunkler, an experienced local activist and community organizer, would spearhead a public education campaign and lead community forums, while Stolz would help the community analyze water samples to identify potential fracking-related contaminants.

Hunkler’s concern about water quality dates back to 2016, when thousands of gallons of toxic fracking fluid spilled into a local reservoir, significantly impacting local water quality. In addition, a more recent “blowout” at a fracking well created a toxic plume that lasted nearly three weeks. In the face of these events, testing for contaminants in local water bodies became more important than mere monitoring.

Working with an expert to gather on-the-ground data boosted residents’ confidence to approach local and state officials about their concerns. In addition, they engaged with social media and news outlets to reach a wider audience, even giving then-gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich a tour of several fracking sites.

“Dr. Stolz brought a new level of credibility and justification for my continued work on these issues,” Hunkler says. “Citizens cannot rely on regulatory agencies to protect them. They must find programs like Thriving Earth Exchange, who will partner them with a scientist.”

 

Devising a low-cost, long-term water monitoring tool in Cambridge, Ohio

Residents of Cambridge, Ohio were similarly concerned about how hydraulic fracturing might harm the quality and quantity of their water supply. Leatra Harper, Managing Director of FreshWater Accountability Project teamed up with Chris Spiese, Ph.D., of Ohio Northern University to find out if the community’s fears were warranted.

The team devised several methods to test for contaminants in surface waters around Wills Creek, which is near several fracking sites and supplies most of the county’s water. At community meetings, Harper and Spiese shared the findings with local stakeholders. Spiese noted that the information helped calm some residents’ “chemophobia,” but added that the data points to a need for continued water monitoring to hold the industry accountable for emissions, especially in the absence of adequate regulation.

Another important outcome of the project is the passive water sampler the team devised, which will live on after the project as a low-cost, long-term solution for monitoring water and determining the source of any contaminants. The sampler could give other communities an important tool for monitoring their water quality, as well.

Participants report that the project was more work than they had anticipated, but well worth the effort. “We had to learn how to balance all of the other demands on our time outside of the project, as well as learn not to compare ourselves to the other groups working in the same area,” Spiese says.

Although the Thriving Earth Exchange project has ended, team members continue the effort, especially in the area of water quantity, which is more complex to assess than water quality. They are working to secure funding to gather more data and continue to educate local stakeholders.

Spiese advises other communities seeking to solve similar problems to communicate clearly and have realistic expectations about what can be accomplished. It is also important to let local concerns frame the projects, and to encourage local authorities to support these efforts, Hunkler      notes.

A third project in the cohort, centered around Robinson and Smith Townships, Penn., continues to collect data and engage with community members to address concerns around the environmental impacts of fracking and its associated industrial infrastructure in their area.

Barnesville team presents water quality results at a community meeting

May 2019 Notes from the Field: Barnesville, OH

All updates for this project

Project Team

Community Lead

JIll Antares Hunkler is a teacher, artist, writer, environmental activist, and grassroots organizer. She educates the public about the threats we face due to the polluting and destructive oil and gas industry. She has helped empower people in her community in Ohio to stand up for their rights for a healthy environment. Together they have been successful in their protective campaigns. Her mission to promote clean energy solutions and a healthy and protected Mother Earth for current and future generations. For further information visit Jill’s website: www.ohioallies.org.

 

Scientific Lead

John Stolz is Director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education; Professor, Environmental Microbiology Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences Department of Biological Sciences; Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. John is interested in both fundamental questions in microbial ecology as well as the application of unique microbial species for bioremediation. There are three major areas of interest in his lab:1) the ecophysiology, biochemistry, and molecular biology of dissimilatory metal reducing bacteria, 2) the ecophysiology of phototrophic prokaryotes and 3) the environmental impacts and microbiology of unconventional shale gas extraction. John has a Ph.D. in Biology from Boston University.

Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is part of one of Thriving Earth Exchange’s new cohorts.  Thriving Earth has partnered with AGU’s GeoPolicy Connect in 2017 to bring community leaders from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania affected by ongoing hydraulic fracturing together with scientists and policymakers. Thriving Earth is working with three local community groups to connect them with scientists who can help them better understand and cope with the effects of hydraulic fracturing.