Air quality issues discussed in Ohio Room

On Friday, Deborah Cowden, president of the Greene County Medical Society, spoke for more than an hour in the Ohio Room of Kilcawley Center about the air quality issues presented by natural gas and oil drilling.

Cowden, an Ohio native and Wright State University graduate, used current scientific literature and examples of air pollution from natural gas wells in states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Colorado to present her case to a crowd of approximately 50 students, instructors and concerned citizens.

She said the problems presented by hydraulic fracturing are not the same as those of traditional oil and gas drilling.

“These wells are not your grandfather’s oil and gas wells,” Cowden said. “It’s not what they used to do. It was not as lengthy, and there were not as many chemicals involved.”

Cowden used information from the Environmental Protection Agency and various oil and gas companies to support her statement.

She said that more regulation is necessary for preservation of air quality and that Ohio citizens should be informed before supporting fracking in Ohio.

Some of the major chemicals that Cowden cited as being particularly dangerous include benzene, toluene and xylene. Breathing in these chemicals, she said, is harmful, and it is associated with complications such as headaches, numbness in the limbs and potentially even cancer.

Ray Beiersdorfer, a Youngstown State University professor of geological and environmental sciences, said lectures like Cowden’s are vital to informing the public.

“It’s important that people understand that even if nothing goes wrong [with the oil and gas wells], there are still hazards related to leakage of chemicals and gasses,” Beiersdorfer said. “Even under normal circumstances, where there are no leaks, there are still hazardous materials involved.”

Beiersdorfer cited a personal experience with chemical fume exposure from an oil pump jack in Kern River, Calif., that left him with a headache.

“My experience was only acute exposure,” Beiersdorfer said. “Long-term, chronic exposure, even at low levels, is dangerous.”

Josh Intagliata, a business major and Youngstown resident, said he is divided on the issue. “I think drilling may be good for the economy around here, but it sounds like it is dangerous for the environment and our drinking water,” Intagliata said.