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Furious residents lambaste agency for falsifying letters of support: 'This is not OK'

Many residents who allegedly sent letters to the commissions shared that they didn't even know what it was, no less supported it.

Many residents who allegedly sent letters to the commissions shared that they didn’t even know what it was, no less supported it.

Photo Credit: iStock

Lies can cause damage in almost any situation, but falsehoods by one dirty energy company have ignited a firestorm in Ohio.

The Oil and Gas Land Management Commission (OGLMC) allegedly received dozens of pieces of mail from supposed Ohio residents in support of expanding fracking in parts of the state. 

However, many of those residents whose names were on the letters shockingly said they had never written a single one nor expressed support for fracking. 

The letters were originally sent from the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), a nonprofit partly funded by dirty energy industry interests, according to the watchdog Energy and Policy Institute. 

The CEA submitted more than 1,000 letters to the OGLMC, with the general sentiment that permitting "energy development" would increase investment in state parks. 

What is fracking?

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of oil and gas exploration that involves shooting pressurized water and chemicals into rock formations to crack them and reveal the dirty fuels inside.

It takes between 1.5 million and 9.7 million gallons of water to frack a single well, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, and wastewater can leach out and contaminate groundwater and land. 

Fracking also contributes to air pollution via flaring, venting, and accidental release of planet-warming methane gas

Why is this case important?

Many residents who allegedly sent letters to the commissions shared that they didn't even know what fracking was nor supported exploration into the land beneath Ohio's state parks. 

"Fracking destroys the water table, the land, it destroys everything," said Charles Leftwich, a Cleveland resident whose name appeared on one of the letters. "It doesn't need to be taking place anywhere near a state park, that's why it's a state park."

"This is not OK," said Brittany Keep, mother of a 9-year-old girl who allegedly submitted a letter to the commission. "She definitely did not submit that draft."

Opponents of fracking in Ohio are demanding that the fraudulent letters be taken off the record in deciding if the commission should look into fracking in the state. 

Many opponents also expressed that falsifying support letters undermines the legal system of public comments. 

This isn't the first time the CEA has come under fire. In 2014, the organization submitted 2,500 public comments to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin supporting a rate hike for electricity.

However, several alleged signees said they were misrepresented and opposed the rate hike. In 2016, the company submitted 347 supporting letters in favor of the Nexus Gas Transmission pipeline. 

Fourteen individuals came forward claiming that they never signed a letter nor gave anyone permission to use their names. 

What is being done to fix the situation?

Opponents of fracking are outraged by the findings and the effort to undermine the public comment process. 

"The public commenting process is critical to decisions that will determine the fate of our Ohio state parks, wildlife areas, and other public lands. Where does the buck stop in ensuring that Ohioans whose names are on these comments actually submitted them?" commented Cathy Cowan Becker, a Save Ohio Parks steering committee member. 

Other individuals are asking for a legal inquiry into the CEA and its processes. Molly Jo Stanley, the Southeast Ohio Regional Director for the Ohio Environmental Council, called on the OGLMC to investigate all public comments to determine their authenticity. "This is yet another attempt by fossil fuel interests to undermine our democratic processes for their own financial gain," Stanley said. "Ohioans deserve to know that the public record of comments accurately reflects what the people of Ohio want for their public lands."

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