Winter clouds gathered outside the cafeteria of River High School in Hannibal, Ohio, promising high winds and black ice…but the folks inside were worried about threats a little closer to home.
On January 14, residents from southeast Ohio met with representatives from local, state and federal government to discuss their environmental concerns. The event, sponsored by the Ohio Environmental Council, gave citizens the chance to describe their experiences with oil, gas and other development. While the issues were universal—protecting land, water, air—the stories were highly individual:
· The local farmer—having lost access to his leased grazing land because of a newly placed pipeline—decided to cash in his retirement and build a new home far away from development…only to have a natural gas compressor station built nearby. “It sounds like nine train engines running day and night,” he says.
· The family who lived through a nearby well pad fire in June 2014, raised a host of questions about their subsequent health issues—and claim they’ve received precious few answers.
· The new resident who came from bruising battles with drilling companies in the western United States, only to find similar issues brewing here. “I don’t want to sound defeatist,” he said. “I guess I’m here to warn you.”
While billed as a “listening session” for elected officials, few government representatives could offer more than sincere expressions of concern. Not surprising, really; environmental issues are often complicated and difficult to solve.
But Fair Shake Supervising Attorney James Yskamp had a simple reminder for those in attendance: “You have rights,” Yskamp said. “You have rights to be involved in the process, and you have rights if you feel you’ve been harmed.”
Yskamp and Resident Attorney Megan Hunter outlined some of the issues that were voiced during the forum, and noted where and how affected residents could seek answers and possibly redress.
Such rights, Yskamp said, are invaluable tools toward meaningful engagement.
”You have options,” he said, “and you need to know that.”