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UC Fracking Research Receives First-Ever Science and Community Award from Ohio Environmental Council

The Ohio Environmental Council recently honored UC geology researcher Amy Townsend-Small and her team in recognition of their study of hydraulic fracturing and its impact.

Date: 11/17/2014 12:00:00 AM
By: Elissa Yancey
Phone: (513) 556-6415
Photos By: Elissa Yancey

UC ingot   University of Cincinnati Assistant Professor Amy Townsend-Small recently shared the stage with former Ohio governors Robert Taft and Ted Strickland when she picked up a state-wide honor for her innovative work testing groundwater in Eastern Ohio.

Townsend-Small, a geology researcher, leads UC GRO (Groundwater Research of Ohio) to study the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on groundwater in the Utica Shale of Ohio. UC GRO was awarded the Ohio Environmental Council’s first-ever Science and Community Award because of its innovative approach to gathering and reporting research findings.

But community connections are not the only innovative elements of UC GRO. Another is the very concept of testing groundwater before fracking begins on land nearby.

Townsend-Small and her team of graduate and undergraduate researchers, all of whom coincidentally happen to be female, collect samples and test for concentrations of methane, hydrocarbons and salt. While these gases and compounds can be linked to fracking practices, they can also be found organically. Without a clear sense of what the groundwater contained before fracking, residents and natural gas drillers won’t be able to ascertain what impact, if any, fracking itself has.

So far, Townsend-Small said in her acceptance speech at the OEC’s annual Green Gala, the clearest impact of fracking in Eastern Ohio is fear. Residents are concerned about their water and about their air. “I believe every Ohioan has the right to not worry about whether their water or air will make them sick,” Townsend-Small said.

Because of interest in surrounding communities and counties, UC GRO recently expanded to new testing sites in Belmont, Columbiana, Harrison and Stark counties.

That growth stems, in part, from Townsend-Small’s system of partnering with concerned community members. Community members are so much a part of UC GRO that representatives joined Townsend-Small and her graduate and undergraduate research assistants to accept the award from the Ohio Environmental Council in Columbus.

Paul Feezel, chair of Carroll Concerned Citizens, has been instrumental in educating his neighbors in Carroll County about UC GRO and encouraging their participation in the study. Carroll County is home to more than half the state’s natural gas drilling sites and thousands of more sites are approved for future drilling, according to the research collaborative, Ohio Policy Matters.

“People need to know what’s in their water,” Feezel said. “The more education and research we can help support, the better.”

At the event, Townsend-Small thanked UC, the communities in which she works, her research team and the individuals and foundations who have founded UC GRO so far. “We aren’t funded by the natural gas industry or any government entity,” she said. “In order to keep doing this important work, we need continued support from people who, like us, want to take a proactive approach to protecting human health and the environment.”

Donations to UC GRO can be made online.