Did a “natural” gas front group use Ohio residents’ identities to fake support for fracking in state parks?
The fracking industry has set its sights on Ohio’s state parks, and is reportedly sinking to new lows in its quest to start drilling on public land.
According to reporting from the Cleveland Plain Dealer, at least 38 Ohio residents discovered that their names had been used to sign letters to the state’s Oil and Gas Land Management Commission in support of fracking in state parks. A 9-year-old girl and a legally blind woman were among the Ohio residents whose names were used without their consent.
The misused identities were discovered by volunteers with Save Ohio Parks, which is fighting against the industry’s fracking scheme, and noticed irregularities in public comments.
“We started noticing that hundreds had the exact same time stamp, like say 10:31 a. m. on a certain date – 100 submitted at exactly that minute … So that tipped us off that something was really wrong with those letters,” Cathy Cowan Becker, a volunteer with the parks group told Gas Leaks.
The letters appear to have been submitted by the Consumer Energy Alliance, a front group supported by oil and gas giants like ExxonMobil, Shell and the American Gas Association. Ohio’s Attorney General is now investigating the incident, which he says may have violated state laws.
According to research from the Energy and Policy Institute, this isn’t the first time the Consumer Energy Alliance has been caught submitting fraudulent letters in support of fossil fuels — it was caught using similar tactics to undermine solar power in Wisconsin, promote a new methane gas pipeline in Ohio and support a utility merger in South Carolina.
It’s not surprising that industry front groups would resort to underhanded tactics to try and show support for fracking. Polls show that Ohio residents are highly skeptical after decades of mostly empty promises from the oil and gas industry about supposed economic benefits of fracking. Research from the Ohio River Valley Institute found that eastern Ohio counties actually saw a net job loss and population loss during a fracking boom between 2008 and 2019, while billions in profits went to out-of-state industry executives and shareholders.
The local benefits of fracking may have never materialized, but the harms are very real. Studies in neighboring Pennsylvania have linked fracking to increased childhood cancer. Amid increased complaints of headaches, fatigue and nausea from people living near Eastern Ohio fracking sites, community advocates have launched monitoring programs to catch localized sources of air pollution that are being missed by official EPA monitors. The region has also seen increased earthquakes that are linked to fracking.
Despite the evidence of faked support for fracking, Ohio regulators are still considering opening up state parks to the destructive practice.
“Fracking destroys the water table, the land, it destroys everything,” one of the Ohio residents who had their identity misused told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “It doesn’t need to be taking place anywhere near a state park, that’s why it’s a state park.”
Follow Save Ohio Parks to stay up to date on the latest efforts to fight back against the gas industry’s underhanded attempts to pollute public land.