Relay to raise local awareness on fracking

Groups concerned about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing are hoping that one little baton taking one very big journey will help spark an interest and raise awareness about the issue.

Starting Saturday, near the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers in Pittsburgh, several bikers, runners, and paddlers will be transporting a baton the entire 981 miles of the Ohio River as part of the Great Ohio River Relay.

The baton will be handed off in Marietta on Thursday to anti-fracking group Appalachia Resist.

The group was also responsible for a February protest at GreenHunter Water in New Matamoras, which shut the fracking wastewater storage facility down for a day and resulted in multiple arrests.

“We’re really concerned about the waste that’s being hauled to our counties from other states and from all these new hydraulic wells up in northern Ohio. It’s already really bad and we don’t want it to continue getting worse,” said Appalachia Resist member Sarah Fick.

The Marietta baton hand-off will also include a rally at noon in East Muskingum Park. A trio of speakers, including relay organizer Robin Mahonen, will be talking about how fracking has impacted their communities.

“The idea of the relay is to bring nationwide attention to the idea of fracking,” said Mahonen.

A New York City native, Mahonen was surprised to learn on a recent visit that some of her well-educated city friends did not know what fracking entails.

“I think the issue of fracking is very much in the forefront of people who live here and are on top of what’s going on. But people that live in the big cities downstream of us have no idea what’s coming,” she said.

Mahonen, now a Wheeling, W.Va., resident, is particularly concerned about a proposed GreenHunter storage and recycling plant in her community.

“Once water has been used for fracking it is permanently removed from the water cycle,” said Mahonen.

Water is the main ingredient used in fracking-a drilling process that involves shattering rock thousands of feet underground with a combination of water, sand and chemicals to release oil and natural gas.

Proponents say the hydraulic fracturing industry is well-regulated in Ohio and the process poses no risk when done properly.

But Mahonen is concerned that one accident at the proposed facility on the Ohio River, would be all it would take to pollute the waterway.

“This proposed plant is 1.2 miles up river of the main water intake of our county. If there was ever a spill, we don’t know they could contain it,” she said.

Mahonen is a founding member of the Wheeling Water Warriors, a group that hopes to prevent the plant from ever being built.

Currently the facility has gotten the go-ahead from the Wheeling Planning Commission and Wheeling City Council, but still needs some permits before they can begin operations, said Mahonen.

After the rally in Marietta, Appalachia Resist will begin a mass bike ride through the streets of Marietta and across the Williamstown Bridge into West Virginia.

Anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate in the bike ride, said Fick.

Betsy Cook, a member of the Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group, said she hopes the event helps more people get educated about fracking.

“I think we all need to be vigilant and make sure things are being done properly,” said Cook.

Long-distance bikers with Appalachia Resist will take the baton to Pomeroy, Ohio, and ultimately end up at the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, W.Va. on Sept. 21.

The baton will eventually make its way to Cairo, Ill., where the Ohio River empties into the Mississippi River.