Peace of mind

GARRETTSVILLE – Doing nothing was not an option for Fran Teresi when it came to safeguarding the village’s drinking water.

As the natural gas and oil industry continues to grow around Garrettsville and throughout northeast Ohio, the trustee on the village’s board of public affairs believes so do the risks of possible contamination of the municipal well.

The water source for 2,400 residents is located outside Garrettsville limits, leaving village officials with no control over the drilling locations for both production and waste disposal wells.

“We don’t own the property. We really don’t know where the drilling is going to go,” Teresi said. “I wondered how are we going to know if this is affecting our water? So I started calling different governmental organizations to get information on how to find out.”

What she found out is that few if any public drinking water sources are doing comprehensive pre-drilling testing.

As a result, this tiny village in eastern Portage County has become somewhat of a trendsetter after its board of public affairs voted unanimously to become the only municipality in Portage, Trumbull or Mahoning counties – and possibly in northeast Ohio – to allocate about $35,000 for a consultant’s study and the Portage County Board of Health to conduct in-depth sampling of ground water to establish baselines of the existing water quality.

“This was basically something I pulled together. There is no road map out there,” Teresi said.

But the expense from limited village coffers has drawn some criticism from residents who wonder why so much money is being spent with no guarantees the data ever will be needed.

In fact, Teresi acknowledges she hopes that is the case.

“Hopefully, we will never need to use this data. But we won’t know what we are dealing with until we are in the middle of this industry’s activities,” Teresi said. “You have got to look out for yourself because you don’t know what drilling is going to do. And there’s illegal dumping, injection wells, tanker trucks, pipelines. There’s so much beyond the hydraulic fracturing.”

Officials at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the agency that oversees the natural gas and oil industry’s production and waste disposal, say ground water contamination stemming from gas well drilling is extremely rare – but is possible.

“We cannot say it’s never happened. We cannot say it won’t happen,” ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said. “We can say it’s never happened from an underground injection well or from the fracking fluid.”

ODNR also requires oil and gas drillers to do their own water testing if they are drilling in close proximity to water sources.

County health departments such as Trumbull and Portage County have set up programs to conduct pre-drilling water sampling for individual homeowners that want to keep their own records. But at several hundred dollars for each test, the process is expensive and experts recommend advance sampling be done at least once per season for three to four seasons.

On the advice of Garrettsville’s solicitor, officials knew the village needed to establish baseline water quality before drilling begins and have ongoing testing afterwards to create legally defensible evidence should contamination occur. With that in mind, Garrettsville hired the Portage County Health Department to monitor its municipal well and private water wells of 16 individuals several miles from the town’s water source.

Last week, Keith Riley, professional engineer with the Portage County Health Department, traveled to the 17 properties in his mission to draw water for testing to establish baselines. It was the third and final time the preliminary checks will be made.

“We will keep this data and if there is ever a court case, we can help them out,” Riley said. “Hopefully that won’t happen.”

Among his stops was the home of David and Judy Hill, just northwest of Garrettsville limits.

“When we built our house, I didn’t want to be next to a factory. Now this area is going to turn into an industrial area, and I am concerned about that,” David Hill said, as he and his wife stood in the driveway of their home along state Route 82. “I am concerned about the oil and gas industry. Really concerned.”

They have gotten involved with the Sierra Club environmental group and David now is trained to collect surface and ground water in an ongoing effort to help police area streams and water wells for contamination.

“I am not a scientist,” Hill said. “I just gather data. I work off what the EPA says, and I have a lot of faith in the health department. We are strictly setting up a database.”

The couple is educated on the issue and also spoke about their worries over the millions of gallons of fresh water used on each well in the hydraulic fracturing process.

“It’s ruined. We are taking all that water and we are ruining it. It’s not getting recycled by mother nature,” he said.

A retired plumber by trade, Hill pointed out regulations forcing water conservation. “They made us go to water-saving toilets and shower heads. They forced us to save our natural resource of water. Why doesn’t every industry have to do this?”

Judy Hill echoed the sentiment.

“I think you have to think into the future a little more,” she said. “There’s other parts of the world where they don’t have water now. Our craving for oil runs our society. It’s going to be a problem.”