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YOUNGSTOWN -- Demonstrators rallied outside an industry networking convention Wednesday in what was one of the first major expressions of public distrust with the natural gas industry since the drilling boom spread to the state.
"Green jobs are what we need; fracking is a dirty deed," the protesters chanted on the sidewalks outside the convention at the Covelli Centre. Waving signs with statements such as "Keep our water safe" and "You can't drink money," the approximately 120 protesters demanded either that the natural gas industry leave the state or that the state government regulate it more responsibly than it has been.
Their demands reflected concerns about the environmental and health effects of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a method of obtaining previously hard-to-reach natural gas resources that sparked a drilling boom in Pennsylvania.
Some have found the uncertainty surrounding hydraulic fracturing frightening and accuse the government of being irresponsible for allowing the practice to continue without more research.
"I'm terrified," said Jennie Scheinbach, a 37-year-old bakery owner from Columbus. Security officials escorted her and other demonstrators out of the Covelli Centre after she began raising political issues during a question-and-answer session following a convention speech. "Some things are not for sale. Clean water is one of those things," she said, alluding to cases in which natural gas extraction has led to drinking water contamination.
The frequency and severity of such cases has been a matter of intense debate, both among the public and in academia, with the industry asserting that the practice is safe and tested. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and is scheduled to release its findings by the end of 2012.
Some business leaders accuse the volunteers of exaggerating and stress the economic opportunity that natural gas drilling offers to the region.
"This is a game-changer in our area," said Tony Paglia, vice president of government affairs as the Youngstown/Warren regional chamber of commerce, a private organization that organized the convention and aims to stimulate economic growth in the area. "It can be done responsibly."
Protester Jaime Frederick, 33, of Coitsville Township in Ohio's Mahoning County, said that after her neighbor leased his adjacent property to a drilling company, she became concerned about the effects the gas well next to her house may have on her water quality, air quality, and property value. "We're trapped in our house now and I'm not sure if we can drink the water," she said.
Some protesters demanded a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in Ohio until the government can verify its safety.
"They should be proving to us that it is safe," said Vanessa Pesec, 51, president of the Network for Oil & Gas Accountability & Protection, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped organize the protest.
However, business leaders at the convention said that Ohio is ready to move forward with its local natural gas boom.
"If fracturing is a dirty word, jobs is a dirty word," said Thomas Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association in a speech at the convention, stressing that hydraulic fracturing is safe. "We can make this thing work. And in my view, the state of Ohio is ready to do that."
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettte. Chris Kirk is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.
Contact Chris Kirk at: firstname.lastname@example.org -80.64952