Something Doesn’t Smell Right: Activist’s Theatrics Fail in Youngstown

This October, the Youngstown City Council invited Rhonda Reda, Executive Director of the , to present to the council an “oil and gas 101” to obtain a background information and a better understanding of oil and gas development.

While the meeting met the objective of the Council, it unfortunately also drew a number of disruptions from activists affiliated with “Frack Free Mahoning”, an anti-fossil fuel organization that has protested oil and gas representatives and industry events on a number of occasions. One of these disruptions resulted in an arrest.

At the Youngstown event Elizabeth Khumprakob, 30, began screaming over Ms. Reda early into her presentation. The outburst was addressed by the council members, who asked the young woman to be respectful of the speaker – a request she ignored, prompting Councilman Mike Ray to request that security remove her from the meeting.

Aside from vocally disrupting the meeting, Ms. Khumprakob removed a jar of what she claimed to be brine – or “hazardous material” as she phrased it – which she indicated came from a disposal well near her house.

As she was escorted from the premises, she left the jar on a table inside the council room, enclosed in a paper bag.
As the presentation continued, a fire chief for the City Office Building came into the room. It would later come to light the activist had placed a call to 911 to report “hazardous material” in the council chambers.

Upon finishing her presentation, Rhonda Reda spoke with the fire chief and offered to test the contents of the jar, and proceeded to do so at the fire chief and Councilman Ray’s request.

BioSolutions, LLC of Chagrin Falls, OH, analyzed the contents, and returned a report with interesting results.

The analysis showed the fluid certainly was NOT hazardous, but rather had a composition completely unrelated to any aspect of oil and gas development. And, it appears to be wholly man (or woman) made.
From the report:

Analysts noted the sample had odors of vinegar (acetic acid) and chewing tobacco. We lack the necessary organic analytical instruments and knowledge to corroborate these observations.

Continued:

Using a pH probe and meter was deemed too likely to damage the probe with the associated expense of probe replacement. pH using pH paper was in the 3-5 pH range. Conductivity was not measured for the same reason.

The visual paucity of microbes in the photographs is explained by the low pH. The oil layer on top will impede, if not eliminate, oxygen exchange to the aqueous portion of the sample, but facultative and anaerobic bacteria should still have been visible in the microscopic photographs had they been present.

A 1/100 dilution of the sample was analyzed via ion chromatography. Chloride is present at around 10,000 mg/L and sulfate around 480 mg/L. Chloride and sulfate concentrations vary, but are both in the 5-100 mg/L range for most water wells we have analyzed.

Hypothesis

If cider vinegar was supplemented with table salt, vegetable oil and some leafy material such as chewing tobacco, a sample with similar characteristics could be the result (emphasis added).

Cider vinegar, vegetable oil, and chewing tobacco – all elements not likely to be used in oil and gas development, nor would they likely be found in any naturally occurring brine.

Though Ms. Khumprakob’s actions were akin to yelling “fire” in a movie theater in an attempt to incite panic over this “hazardous waste.”  In the end, her theatrics posed the greatest threat that night in Youngstown.

These dramatic and visually stunning tactics are not new to the organizations that oppose the safe development of fossil fuels. From the misleading imagery used by Josh Fox in Gasland, to Mark Mangan’s “brown jug”, activists repeatedly use these props, but only rarely do they accept the offer for testing.

It’s something we’ve experienced in Ohio before, something we’ve witnessed quite recently and something we are likely to see again.

During a Chesapeake job fair earlier this year, while hundreds of Ohioans waited in line to learn about employment opportunities in Ohio, one gentlemen was showcased a jar of what was supposedly contaminated well water. To the passers-by, the image would be alarming. A closer inspection would probably be even more alarming, given the nature of the deceptive effort:

We’ve got some ‘Frack-accinos’…this is tap water from a well, tap water near a well that has been ‘fracked’, it is poisoned, we’ve added food coloring for dramatic effect.. (0:14)

The young activist goes on to explain the water has caused serious illnesses in Mahoning County – a situation that would surely be news to the region’s residents.

Sometimes, the line between fact and fiction is long and wide.

Ohio’s continued development of our oil and natural gas resources holds too great a potential to be discussed in anything but an honest, fact-based fashion, not one based in theatrics, innuendo and misleading props. It is unfortunate that there are those, like Ms. Khumprakob, who would seek to instill fear in order to promote an agenda that is refuted by experience and scientific analysis.

This most recent example serves as yet another reminder of the importance of diligent and vigilant research on the subject to ensure legitimate education is taking place.

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