Rallying for local fracking regulations

Matthew Merchant

With signs raised high and voices echoing, anti-fracking demonstrators rallied and marched from the streets of downtown Kent to Kent State’s campus Saturday to raise awareness for Issue 21, a proposed anti-fracking law on the Nov. 4 ballot.

As part of the Global Frackdown, an international day of advocacy aimed at raising awareness of local fracking operations of oil and gas companies, the Kent Environmental Rights Group rallied, marched and painted the rock on front campus. Other events in Ohio included rallies locally in Lakewood and Ashtabula county, and globally in London, Paris, Madrid and other major cities.

“How much longer are you, the resident of Kent, willing to wait? How much environmental harm and destruction of the community you love are you willing to sit back and watch and allow?” said Tish O’Dell, the Ohio community organizer for the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. “Is this easy? No, and you’re finding that out. Will there be a price to pay for saving the world, for saving Kent? Absolutely.”

CELDF has been supporting KERG since April when the local advocacy group was formed. KERG recently proposed an amendment to the City of Kent Charter that would ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, within city limits. The proposed amendment is on the Nov. 4 ballot as Issue 21.

“(KERG) is as grassroots as it gets,” said Lee Brooker, a member of the group. “The industry is obviously well-monied, and we really need donations.”

The protest march and rally, held in the gazebo area in Kent next to the Pufferbelly restaurant, was intended both to raise awareness for the ballot issue and to raise money for the sponsor organizations. Representatives from KERG, Food and Water Watch, Concerned Citizens Ohio and other anti-fracking and environmental rights groups collected donations, passed out muffins and cookies to passers-by, and handed out fliers–often while holding picket signs or poster boards.

O’Dell was just one of four speakers at the event. Gwen Fischer of Concerned Citizens Ohio, Ron Prosek of the Northeast Ohio Gas Accountability Project and Ted Voneida of the Kent Environmental Council also presented information on fracking or spoke from personal experience.

“The people of Kent have a rendezvous with destiny, for you are helping to write a new history for our country and for the world by keeping faith with each other and with the generations yet to come,” Prosek said, paraphrasing a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt. “And you are doing this in the face of the most powerful and rapacious industry this country and the world have ever known-the extreme hydrocarbon extractionists.”

Kent is among many other cities in Ohio working to pass similar bills of rights that would ban fracking. Community action and not state action, Prosek said, is the only effective way to regulate the gas industry on a local level.

“What we need now is not climate change, but system change,” he said. “By seeking to establish a community bill of rights, you are helping to make that change–change to a system in which the people in their communities are sovereign and fully control the industries and resources in their midst in such a way as to ensure the health and safety of their residents.”

Despite regulations already in place at the state level, groups like KERG and CELDF advocate for increased local control of the industry. Fischer passed out slips of paper with Governor Kasich’s phone number and encouraged the crowd to call and ask about fracking regulations – which most everyone proceeded to do.

“We know that regulations cannot prevent inherent harms and risks from this industry,” Fischer said. “So what can we do? Well, if you live in Kent, you have the opportunity to vote for Issue 21, which is a community rights amendment to the city charter; it cannot be taken away easily, and that will protect the water, air and property values from fracking.”

Besides Kent residents walking home from the Haymaker Farmer’s Market, residents of other communities and even Kent State students attended the rally and demonstration after reading about it on Facebook or seeing posters on campus.

“I like to know what is going on,” said Michael George, a sophomore entrepreneurship major. ”I think it’s important to read and stay informed, especially with The Kent Stater and things that are relevant to the school. And I enjoy it. I like this event especially because it shows how the community feels about fracking. It’s good to see a community get together.”

Alyssa Brady, a senior conflict management major, and Danielle Yoder, a resident of Seven Hills who brought her 10-month-old daughter Althea with her, said they read about the event on the Global Frackdown Facebook page and decided to make protest signs. One sign read “Don’t Frack My Future Gasholes” and another “Only You Can Prevent Faucet Fires.”

After the rally and the speakers, the demonstrators marched from downtown, to Erie Street and Route 59 and then to the rock on the front campus of Kent State. Chanting “What do we want? Community rights” and “The people united will never be defeated” to the rhythmic beat of a Civil War-era drum, provided by Terry Murcko, the demonstrators spray painted “KERG: Yes on Issue 21” in blue and orange on the rock. Murcko said his sister was attending a Global Frackdown event in New York.

O’Dell said the residents of Kent have inalienable rights to govern themselves and if that government doesn’t work, then they have the right to change it.

“It’s up to us to take charge of the communities where we live in. We have to realize there’s no superhero coming in to save us. There’s no one in a red cape, there’s no environmental agency and there’s no elective that’s going to save us. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” O’Dell said. “If we don’t take control of this environmental destruction, we’re damning our children and their children to an even more poisoned world, with even more disease and far less natural beauty.”

Contact Matthew Merchant at [email protected].