Ohio oil spill: When drilling hits home

by Rachael Prokop

April 4, 2015

As a Greenpeace campaigner, Ive spent a lot of time working to protect the Arctic from oil drills. Last week, I was devastated when the Obama Administration approved Shell’s plans to drill in Arctic waters.

Then it all hit home. Literally. I signed into Facebook Saturday to see everyone posting about an oil spill in Vienna, Ohio, my hometown. About 2,000 gallons of oil spilled onto wetlands and ponds from an underground drain pipe belonging to local oil and gas company Kleese Development. The oil may have been leaking for a while, hidden under snow and ice, according to the Ohio EPA.

Vienna is a farming town where it’s easy to find pockets of nature: woods, wetlands, fields, and ponds. Its also on the Utica shale formation, which means that the area is very hot with frackers right now. There have been fracking-related earthquakes and an oil boss was recently sentenced to jail time for dumping fracking waste in the nearby Mahoning River. Initial news reports did not make it clear if the Vienna spill was fracking-related. Either way, it’s bad news.

Vienna residents living near the affected wetlands and ponds are reporting dead fish, frogs, turtles, and muskrats. Most people in this part of town also rely on wells for drinking water, leading to worries about water contamination.

My familys home was unaffected by the spill, but itresembles the landscape that was. My childhood backyard featured a field full of cattails, chirping tree frogs, and way too many mosquitoes. We had well water that smelled like sulfur. We also had a natural gas well.

The well was an ugly, rusted green structure next to the cattail field. It was almost empty when my parents bought the house, but the gas company still paid them for the right to keep using it, and to this day my parents get to heat their house for free. That kind of trade-off is a no-brainer in the Rust Belt, where practically everyone is employed by a factory that could go belly-up any second. I can fully understand why people invite oil and gas companies on their land, even with the risks. What I dont understand is why, as a nation, were still prioritizing these risky, carbon-spewing, oil-spilling fuels over clean energy like solar and wind.

Im sad to see this happen in Vienna, but Im not surprised. As long as we keep drilling, there will be spills. Its time to get these drills out of our backyards and out of our wild places, andreplace them with clean, renewable, unspillable energy.

Photo by Suzanne Bobosky Photography, courtesy of Protect Youngstown

By Rachael Prokop

Rachael is an Online Campaigner with Greenpeace USA.

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