Ohio Department of Natural Resources

What can we learn from Ohio’s animal Armageddon?

Jungle Jack Hanna, known as much for his zany humor as for his love of animals, was near tears as he described the carnage after 49 exotic animals escaped from a Zanesville, Ohio farm. He described it as if Noah’s Ark wrecked in the middle of Zanesville.

As Sheriff Matt Lutz described the activities in his morning press conference, my attention was on Hanna’s face. When I saw this usual jovial man fighting tears I suddenly realized the enormity of the situation. The sheriff’s deputies shot 48 animals including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions after exotic animal owner, Terry Thompson, released all the animals from their cages and then took his own life. One animal, a monkey, remains missing and is believed eaten by one of the big cats.

In all, more than 50 exotic animals including bears, tigers, lions, wolves, and monkeys were released from their cages. When officials arrived, six remained in or near their cages and were able to be rescued and transferred to the Columbus Zoo.

Neighbors described the scene as sounding like a war zone with one man estimating at least 350 shots were fired. When deputies arrived at the farm they had a little over an hour of daylight left to corral nearly 50 wild animals. Their first concern was the safety of the people—and that is as it should be. Law enforcement officers don’t travel with tranquilizer guns and the only choice they had was to shoot the animals. Jack Hanna supported Sheriff Lutz’s decision. The sheriff said that if the incident had happened during daylight his decision and approach would have been different.

It is a tragic incident. Many animal lovers have been angry over the deaths and Jack Hanna and the sheriff have even had death threats. As an animal lover I was sickened by the sight of the many proud, beautiful animals laid out ready for burial. However, I’m sure no one was more upset over the events than Hanna himself.

Animal rights lovers have a right to be angry but their anger should be directed at Ohio’s lax laws rather than the innocent people caught up in the nightmare. Ohio is one of several states with no rules or regulations regarding private ownership of exotic animals and even holds auctions regularly. Wayne  Pacelle, head of the Humane Society, equated Ohio to the Wild West.

What makes this incident even more tragic is it could have been avoided if an agreement negotiated by former governor Ted Strickland had been allowed to continue under the new administration. Pacelle said the Zanesville situation could have been prevented if Kasich had extended and enforced an exotic-animals ban signed by former Gov. Ted Strickland before leaving office in January. The ban was the last component of an animal-welfare deal worked out by Strickland, the Humane Society, Ohio Farm Bureau and others.

When Kasich took office he allowed the ban to lapse in April saying it was difficult to enforce and had no funding.  Bill Damschroder, chief legal counsel for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the agency that would have enforced the animal order, said he determined that it “exceeded the agency’s authority.” Damschroder said legislation was not in place that empowered the agency to do the things required by Strickland’s order. In addition, it allocated no resources for statewide enforcement.

Countering the argument, Dan Kobil, constitutional-law expert at Capital University, said that it is “at least strongly arguable that the governor has authority to issue an executive order to direct the ODNR to make rules protecting the state’s property … from exotic animals.” The governor seems to have very broad powers to issue executive orders. The only apparent limitation is action that would violate antitrust laws.

Janetta King, who was Strickland’s policy director, said that no one challenged the policy at the time. She said that ODNR has very broad authority to regulate wild animals.

Under Strickland’s order it required owners to register exotic animals with the state by May 1, 2011. It also prohibited anyone with a conviction involving abuse or neglect of animals from owning exotic animals. Thompson did have animal-cruelty and other related convictions in 2006.

In hindsight, it appears that the policy was indeed workable using executive order and giving ODNR the ability to enforce the regulations. This leaves only the second part of Kasich’s argument viable—lack of money. Was the plan scrapped at the altar of finance? If that is what happened, then it is a travesty.

Law enforcement officials know of many cases in their districts where individuals own one or more exotic animals. Several years ago a lion was spotted in our sleepy town of Gahanna. The “Gahanna lion” became a joke but we now see it was no laughing matter. Compounding the irony is the fact that the local high school mascot is a lion. Many people didn’t believe that a lion was on the prowl but it was first sighted by a police officer. He was quoted as saying that when he keyed the mike to tell HQ about his sighting he knew it would not be believed. Later I learned from a police officer that they knew of a property within a few miles of where we live that had a lion in a pen behind their house. The police department thought the lion might have escaped his enclosure and was wandering the area. The lion was never captured despite several sightings.

If some laws and regulations were in place then law enforcement would be able to eliminate these dangerous “pets”. Sheriff Lutz said they had been to Thompson’s property many times but because these animals were pets and not used for entertainment or sold they had no jurisdiction. Can a lion, tiger, or bear really be a pet? Even those hand raised and bottle fed can strike a death blow in a blink of an eye. A veteran Ohio animal rescue officer said that at least 20 private owners around the state have a least 20 exotic animals. “That is only the ones they know of, there could be many more across the state.” He added, “We’ve got houses full of pythons. These individuals will go unknown until there’s a house fire or something like that.”

This madness needs to be stopped now. Do you want to live next door to a house full of deadly snakes; or have lions, tigers, bears, and wolves in the woods behind you? The first sighting of the Gahanna lion occurred just a couple of miles from where I live in a heavily populated community.

One bright spot from this disaster is that a bill was introduced in the Ohio legislature today.  State Rep. Debbie Phillips’ bill is similar to the one championed by Gov. Strickland. Included in the bill is a requirement to embed electronic devices for tracking if they escape. It also includes an emergency clause to take effect immediately if passed. It permits existing owners of exotic animals with federal licenses to keep their animals.

An end to this insanity must come soon. Since 1993 Ohio has had 84 incidents and 10 deaths. Animal lovers everywhere call on the governor and legislature to put politics aside and pass legislation that protects both people and beasts. Remember the 49 animals that died a senseless death. If there is a next time men, women, and children could be included in the fatality count.

Only by the grace of God was no one killed in this animal Armageddon in Zanesville. We might not be so lucky the next time.

 http://www.rr.com/news/topic/article/rr/9001/53780033/Ohio_owner_of_exotic_animals_was_deep_in_debt/full/

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2011/10/20/first-legislation-proposed-to-ban-private-ownership-of-exotic-animals.html

http://www.dispatchpolitics.com/content/blogs/the-daily-briefing/2011/10/10-20-11-kasich-exotic-animals.html

 http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2011/10/20/tragedy-waiting-to-happen.html

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2011/10/20/escaped-animals-zoo.html

 http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2011/10/20/regulating-animals-is-a-political-football.html

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2011/10/19/animal-incidents.html

 

 

Is natural gas a windfall or just fool’s gold?

Schematic cross-section of the subsurface illu...
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Now that drilling for natural gas is a reality in the state, alarm bells are sounding from many experts. The Columbus Dispatch finally took a strong stand against the dangers of fracking in a recent editorial but I’m afraid it is too little too late.

In their editorial, Due diligence—Drilling regulators should make sure ‘fracking’ in Ohio is done safely, the Dispatch warns that the state should proceed with caution, making sure it understands the process and its risks well enough to protect the environment and the public’s enjoyment of the parks. They warn that the “gold-rush mentality” is troubling and this potential wealth does not come without risk. The editorial warns that we should proceed slowly and learn from the mistakes made by other states involved in harvesting shale gas. Water and air quality are key concerns as well as spills and blowouts at the surface causing ground contamination.

Water purity is a major concern in Pennsylvania where the state has banned the waste water from the fracking process used in drilling horizontal wells from entering their wastewater treatment plants due to major pollution from the known and unknown chemicals used in the process. The water treatment plants can’t handle the influx of chemicals and the water discharged from the plants is polluting the state’s rivers and streams. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced that it also will not allow the waste water to be treated in our water treatment plants leaving the waste from both Pennsylvania and Ohio to be disposed of in underground injection wells. This causes some experts to question whether our state has the capacity to handle all this. In an attempt to slow the influx of waste, the state raised the brine-disposal fee from 5 cents to 20 cents a barrel.

One bright spot is that last year the state did a major revamping of the mining laws giving regulators more authority to insist on safer well construction.

Included in the editorial is a call for regulators to require full disclosure of all chemicals used saying public safety and the environment are at stake. The editorial closes by saying:

Ohio has the benefit of learning from mistakes made in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, but officials still should exercise the caution necessary to avoid making new ones.

Many are eager to reap the financial benefits projected to come from natural gas drilling citing the $128 million Pennsylvania received and $178 million collected by Michigan. However, in a political blog on the Dispatch’s website titled Officials plan to go slow on oil, gas drilling on public lands, Laura Jones, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said, “This will be a very deliberate, very measured process. There will be nothing happening fast.” It is projected that drilling in state parks and public lands won’t begin for at least a year while procedures and approvals are being put in place.

One step will be the creation of a five member Oil and Gas Drilling Commission to oversee drilling on state-owned land and grant leases. This commission may sound good on paper but I predict it will be nothing more than a rubber stamp for state and oil company officials since it is composed of four gubernatorial appointees and only one Natural Resources official.  The Ohio Environmental Council, among others, has expressed concern that the bill would give the commission, rather than state agencies that own the land, too much authority to grant drilling leases.

While the commission is being created and rules written, Natural Resources officials are  busy researching titles on land parcels to determine whether there are restrictions. House Bill 133, sponsored by Rep. John Adams, R-Sidney, which established the Commission, is designed to allow the process to move as quickly as possible as the rules are promulgated according to Rep. Adams.

Although the drilling companies will eventually nominate the parcels for drilling it is expected the state will do the nominating for the first year.

Sen. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, said drilling on public lands “remains unnecessary, unwanted and unsafe,” echoing concerns about how drilling could impact the natural beauty of parks and about the use of a hydraulic fracturing technique on deep shale that could harm groundwater supplies.

But, are we being too eager to capture the golden goose? Are we pursuing only fool’s gold? Some oil and gas company executives and experts are beginning to question the financial feasibility of pursuing the gas buried deep beneath shale deposits.

In an article titled Natural-gas industry: Companies over-hyping wells, some experts say Investors banking on controversial drilling, that appeared in the Dispatch Sunday, June 26, and reprinted from The New York Times, experts express grave doubts. Energy executives, industry lawyers, state geologists and market analysts are skeptical about lofty forecasts and question whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of the wells and the size of their reserves. Some are even comparing the frenzy to the dot com bust and fall of the housing bubble.

 “Money is pouring in” from investors even though shale gas is “inherently unprofitable,” an analyst from PNC Wealth Management, an investment company, wrote to a contractor in a February email. “Reminds you of dot-coms.”

“The word in the world of independents is that the shale plays are just giant Ponzi schemes and the economics just do not work,” an analyst from IHS Drilling Data, an energy-research company, wrote in an email on Aug. 28, 2009. Company data for more than 10,000 wells in three major shale-gas formations raise further questions about the industry’s prospects. There is undoubtedly a vast amount of gas in the formations. The question remains how affordably it can be extracted.

Industry officials are also expressing environmental concerns. Referring to the fracking process which can require more than a million gallons of water per well, they are saying that if shale gas wells fade faster than expected, energy companies will have to drill more wells or hydrofrack them more often, resulting in more toxic waste.

The information was provided in emails obtained through open-records requests or provided to The New York Times by industry consultants and analysts who say they think the public perception of shale gas does not match reality. Deborah Rogers, a member of the advisory committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, remembers saying, “I think we have a big problem” when she first studied well data from shale companies in October 2009 after attending a speech by the chief executive of Chesapeake.

Her research showed that the math wasn’t adding up and the wells were petering out faster than expected. “These wells are depleting so quickly that the operators are in an expensive game of ‘catch-up,'” Rogers wrote in an email on Nov. 17, 2009, to a petroleum geologist in Houston, who wrote back that he agreed.

When the boom began in 2008 oil and gas companies were offering Fort Worth residents as much as $27,500 per acre for signing leases. By late 2008 the recession began and natural gas prices plunged by nearly two-thirds, throwing the drilling companies’ business models into a tailspin. Some company engineers were projecting a well life span to be 20 to 30 years but some federal energy analysts were doubtful based on the wells’ performances.

Given the many hazards and uncertainties surrounding retrieval of natural gas, I once again plead for caution. The fact that many industry insiders and experts are questioning the financial feasibility should make us question the road we are on—it is not too late for a course correction. We do not want to rape, pillage, and plunder our state when there is so much to lose.

What the Frack Is All The Fuss Over Natural Gas (Part 2)

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Gold Mine at Our Feet

Ohio could be sitting atop a gold mine! Ohio sits on top of both Marcellus and Utica shale deposits which harbor enough natural gas to last us for many years to come. It is literally a gold mine at our feet. It is estimated that perhaps trillions of cubic feet of gas and billions of barrels of oil are buried under Ohio’s
surface.

Many stand to gain a lot of money from mining Ohio’s natural gas deposits. Energy companies are reportedly paying landowners $1500 per acre plus royalties for the rights to drill on their property. The state of Ohio also hopes to make up huge deficits from the money they stand to gain from leasing drilling rights to
energy companies to drill on state-owned lands in the state parks. Governor
Kasich has said this is a huge windfall for the state.

Several Ohio cities were hoping for a financial windfall for treating the brine from natural
gas wells but the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday, May
17, that cities won’t be able to treat the brine which is then dumped into
streams after treatment. The agency says it is concerned that the brine will
pose a pollution risk. The Ohio EPA’s recommended form of disposal is the use
of injection wells thousands of feet underground.

Steubenville, East Liverpool, and Warren, Ohio hoped to make money from the energy companies by treating the brine; but Warren is the only city currently treating brine for a
Lisbon-based company. The treated brine is then dumped into the Mahoning River;
however, the city’s treatment process does not remove salt from the wastewater.
The Ohio EPA announced it will not renew Warren’s permit to treat such brine
which expires in January.

Robert Disch, East Liverpool’s utility director, estimates his city could make at least
$168,000 a year. Chuck Murphy, Steubenville’s wastewater superintendent, said
his city could make as much as $300,000 a year. Tom Angelo, director of
Warren’s water-pollution-control plant, had hoped to charge as much as $150,000
a year to take the brine.

In eastern Ohio, energy companies are paying landowners for the right to drill into the
Marcellus and the thicker, more deeply buried Utica shale deposits. Companies
have so far drilled 59 Marcellus wells and an additional 10 into the Utica.
Hundreds more could be drilled, especially if Utica wells produce large amounts
of gas, and possibly oil.

Even though the State of Ohio hopes to lease land to energy companies, this process could
be bogged down for some time until it is determined who actually owns the
mineral rights to the land. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants to
open state parks for drilling. Officials say that proceeds from leases and
royalty payments would help reduce a $560 million maintenance backlog in state
parks.

Also, a bill was introduced in the House on Wednesday, May 18, by Rep. Dave Hall,
R-Killbuck, chairman of the House’s Agriculture and Natural Resources
Committee, which states that land owned by universities or that the state
bought with legal agreements that restrict how it can be used, would be
unavailable for drilling. “We wanted to show where you could drill and where
you could not,” said Hall, who sponsored the bill. The bill also creates a
five-member board to review all drilling applications and make a decision
within 15 days.

Tom Steward, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, which represents drillers, said his group supports the bill. He stated, “It became obvious that there were
lands bought with federal encumbrances where the state couldn’t ‘lose control’
of the properties.”

Environmental advocates remain opposed to drilling in any form. Jack Shaner, a lobbyist with the Ohio Environmental Council, said drilling breaks an implied promise that
parks won’t be developed or polluted. “I don’t care how much lipstick you
put on this pig, it’s still a pig,” Shaner said.  According to the bill, state university
officials would be able to OK drilling on their land.

The EPA’s Role

One would think that the EPA is keeping a close eye on the natural gas industry but they
were essentially excluded by the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The
act also includes a provision that the energy companies do not have to reveal
what chemicals are used in the fracking process. The Policy Act excludes HF
fluids, except for diesel fuel, related to energy production from regulation
under the UIC (underground injection control) program. However, states may
choose to regulate HF, if they wish.

I am not an expert in wastewater treatment, but during my years as editor for a quarterly
magazine for the Ohio Water Pollution Control Association (OWPCA), I learned
that before a treatment facility can treat incoming water it must first know
what chemicals are in the water. If, by law, companies don’t have to reveal the
makeup of the chemical mixture how can the wastewater be properly treated? If the
wastewater is not properly treated, then our streams and drinking water become
polluted.

Along with the expansion of HF there has been increasing concerns about its potential
impact on drinking water resources, public health, and environmental impacts in
the vicinity of these facilities. Therefore, the EPA has begun a study to
understand the relationship between HF and drinking water resources.

This news should be encouraging but, in typical governmental fashion, the study will take
some time to complete. It was begun in 2010 and is not scheduled to be
completed until 2014. A series of community hearings were held last year and the
results of those hearings will be sent to the Science Advisory Board (SAB)
where the draft will then be revised in response to the SABs comments. Initial
results are expected by the end of 2012 with a goal of a full report in 2014.

In connection with the study, the EPA sent letters to 9 companies currently
involved in HF or fracking to gain information regarding the chemicals used in
the process and the impact of the chemicals on human health and the
environment, standard operating procedures at the HF sites, and the locations
of sites where fracturing has been conducted. The nine leading national and
regional HF service providers are:  BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Halliburton, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, RPC, Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services, and Weatherford. All companies but Halliburton (who developed the fracking process and was previously run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president) responded to the EPA request in a timely manner. Halliburton responded only after being
subpoenaed to do so.

Flowback is regulated not by the EPA but by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program which requires flowback to be treated prior to discharge into surface
water or underground injection prior to discharge. Underground injection is
regulated by EPA or a state with primary UIC (underground injection control)
enforcement authority. However, again, if the chemicals used in the process are
unknown, then proper treatment of the water is impossible.

It is certainly discouraging to think the gas drilling companies are running the
show. What were our fine representatives in Washington thinking when they
passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 or what is commonly known as the
Bush/Cheney Bill? The fact that two oil men were running the country tells us everything.
I hate to think what horrors are ahead of us with very few regulations placed
on the industry. Why don’t they want us to know what chemicals are being used? What
are they hiding?

We may have a gold mine at our feet but what will it cost us to tap into this mine? Are we
opening Pandora’s Box?

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2011/02/14/ohio-epa-tries-to-limit-brine-dumps-in-rivers.html?sid=101

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2011/05/17/cities-cant-treat-brine-from-new-gas-wells.html?sid=101

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2011/05/18/bill-limits-oil-gas-drilling-in-ohio-parks.html?sid=101

GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY

Even a short walk can clear the mind and improve the spirit.

I wrote an entry recently titled “Once A Teacher, Always A Teacher” and in it I also included some writing tips. At the end of each step I added the phrase, “go out and play”. I intended to write a follow up piece about the benefits of going outside and playing but it seems the Columbus Dispatch beat me to it. I opened the paper a few days after my blog entry to see this headline “Prescription for healthy kids: Go outside and play”.

It seems I am not the only one to recognize the benefits of being outside, in fact, there is a whole national movement to encourage kids to leave their computers, iPods, HDTVs, Xboxes, and other electronics and go outside for some fresh air and exercise. According to the Dispatch article and the Kaiser Family Foundation, today’s kids are spending an average of seven hours and 38 minutes a day, or more than 50 hours a week, watching TV, playing computer games, or on the computer. This is an astounding statistic. In response to this, a new national movement has begun called Leave No Child Inside.

In Ohio this movement is backed by Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The Leave No Child Inside coalition also held a rally in Columbus where they released a report showing how the change in lifestyle is creating more obesity, vitamin D deficiency, myopia and stress.

The national movement began in Cincinnati as a response to Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods which addresses the growing disconnect between children and nature and a phenomenon he calls nature deficit disorder. Locally, the movement recognized Dr. Wendy Anderson-Willis, a pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who actually gives prescriptions to play outside for at least an hour each day.

The Leave No Child Inside movement encourages outdoor activities such as bike riding, walking and going to a neighborhood playground or park. They say these activities benefit children physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. My personal research suggests outdoor play and activities also benefits children with attention deficit.

I am of the generation that remembers what the world was like before computers and, unlike many my age, I have fully embraced the modern age. Computers have improved our lives in so many ways I can’t imagine going back to “the good ole days”. But at what costs are we making these advances? I remember coming home from school and racing outside to play before dinner and homework. That time outside always seemed to clear my mind and refresh me before hitting the books again. For some reason I was always able to think clearer after time outside.

I worked part time while going to college and walked from my classes to my job. That walk always cleared my mind, gave me time to think about what I learned that day, and digest the material before entering a different world of working with customers. Even today a brisk walk is part of my routine, especially when faced with a problem or as a break to sort out my writings. I own two dogs and one of the reasons I chose to be a dog owner, besides my passion for rescuing dogs, is that it forces me to go for a walk twice a day. No matter the weather, we are there—the dogs briskly walking in front, tails proudly waving and noses sniffing the breezes. Even through last year’s horrendous winter of snow and ice, we continued our daily walks. A neighbor complimented me on my dedication but my reply was, “I have no choice. The dogs don’t understand if I say we aren’t going out today because the weather is too bad.” Hot sun, snow, sleet, these are all nature’s way of reminding us we are alive. When dressed appropriately, the elements should not be a deterrent to enjoying the out of doors.

As a kid we rode our bikes, played badminton and football or cowboys and Indians, had pogo stick contests, took hikes, explored nature in our own yard, went sledding, climbed trees, played on swing sets, or just sat under a tree and talked. We never thought of spending much time in the house, besides our mothers always shooed us out because we were under foot.

I have always thought the Native Americans had it right. They lived close to nature but also worshiped it. What they took from nature, they replaced. Land ownership was not a part of their world because no one could own Mother Nature. It was only when the white man came to this land and began establishing cities and factories that the balance of nature was upset. It took modern mankind only a couple hundred years to upset the harmony the Indians had established with the earth over many centuries. Today we are paying for this disconnect with obesity, high blood pressure, and diseases.

So, the next time you begin to stress out, leave the cell phones, computers, TVs, and all other forms of electronic entertainment behind and go outside and play. Feel the sun on your face and the wind at your back. See the brilliant array of colors in the various greens of the trees and grasses; or the reds, pinks, oranges, purples in the flowers that adorn porches and walks. Hear nature’s symphony as the birds and insects sing their melodies with the wind blowing through the trees providing the rhythm section. Take a deep breath and smell the perfume of abundant flowers or the musty fragrance of the forest floor. Taste the snowflakes on your tongue.

God, the greatest artist of all, has provided all this to restore our souls. So, go outside and play and feel really alive once again.