NEW MATAMORAS-Ten people were arrested during a Tuesday anti-fracking protest at a New Matamoras business, including a man who spent nearly five hours chained to a 30-foot-tall structure he erected on the property of GreenHunter Water.
The incident began unfolding around 10:30 a.m. when some of the protesters, many wearing masks, stormed the GreenHunter office, located on Ohio 7 along the Ohio River, said Chief Deputy Mark Warden of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. The facility serves as a storage site for the waste generated during the process of hydraulic fracturing.
“They (took) some keys, tried to clog up some of the toilets, scared quite a bit of the employees,” said Warden.
Athens County resident Nate Ebert, 33, a member of the anti-fracking group Appalachia Resist, climbed a 30-foot pole that he erected inside the gated facility, tethering the structure to the fence and to a brine truck that had been unloading waste.
“GreenHunter wants to use our water sources as dumping grounds for their toxic, radioactive waste. We are here to send a message that the people of Ohio and Appalachia will not sit idly by and watch our homes be turned into a sacrifice zone,” said Ebert in a press release sent out by Appalachia Resist at the start of the event.
Company officials say the waste stored there contains nothing hazardous.
After local law enforcement responded, around 100 protesters, many from Athens County, continued to protest on a lawn across from the facility.
Around two dozen officers representing the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the New Matamoras Police Department worked to contain traffic and the crowd of protesters.
At one point the officers asked the group to move off a private lawn, and the protesters shuffled along without protest.
Dozens of cars on busy Ohio 7 passed the group. Many honked at the protesters, which always resulted in another loud round of cheering. Less freqeuntly a passing car would jeer or boo at the group.
At one point, the crowd erupted into cheers as Ebert unfurled a sign that said “Green Hunter. Rich richer. Poor sick.”
Though hotly debated, not everyone is opposed to the fracking industry, which is seen as an economic boost to communities.
Watching the protest from nearby, local resident James Males argued that there are better causes to protest.
“These people around here haven’t had jobs in a long time, and now oil and gas have brought jobs,” said Males, the pastor at New Martinsville Baptist Church.
Warden was initially unable to convince Ebert to come down from his pole, and Ebert was making unreasonable demands, said Warden.
“He wants us to let go all the people we arrested and that’s just not going to happen,” he said, as the situation was still unfolding Tuesday afternoon.
Besides Ebert, the nine arrests were made by having the three GreenHunter employees working that morning identify protesters in the crowd that had been a part of the early morning storm on the building, Warden said.
Using the GreenHunter office as a sort of command center, GreenHunter employees would use binoculars to to identify a culprit from the raid and police would travel across the road to where the group of protesters had eventually congregated in the front lawn of a local resident.
Some of the arrestees went peacefully. Others yelled that they didn’t know why they were being arrested. One tried to flee and was tackled by arresting officers.
Ebert chose to descend from his pole around 3 p.m., said Warden.
“I think he realized his friends were leaving and we told him ‘You’ve already made your point,’ so he just announced he was coming down,” he said.
Ebert, of Millfield, was arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest.
The other nine people were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing, Warden said.
Arrested were Peter Garcia, 34, of Minot, N.D.; Matthew Almonte, 21, of Lithia, Fla.; Subina Ahmed, 22, of Santa Rosa, Calif.; Wendy Jennings, 34, of Minneapolis, Minn.; Jessica Clark, 22, of Kalamazoo, Mich.; Alexandra Kotcheff, 26, of Beverly Hills, Calif.; Steven Schorzman, 25, of Hamilton, Mont.; Patrick Perry, 21, of Athens; and Seth Schlotterbeck, 29, of Athens.
At least two more summonses will be sent out, Warden said, and video footage from the company could help the office make further arrests, he said.
The event was organized to disrupt normal business operations at the facility, said Madeline Ffitch, an organizer for the group Appalachia Resist.
“We are starting to use direct action as a way to support the popular opinion against fracking,” she said.
The protesters talked to local residents beforehand, many of whom had no idea what was stored in the tanks at GreenHunter, said Heather Cantino, of Athens.
“They have the word ‘water’ scrawled across these tanks. But I want you to call it what it is -toxic radioactive frack waste is stored in those tanks. It has nothing to do with water,” she said.
Business was disrupted for most of the day, and multiple brine hauling trucks were prevented from entering the facility, said John Jack, vice president of business development for GreenHunter Water.
However, Jack vehemently opposes the view that the waste stored at their facility is hazardous.
“There is nothing dangerous about the way the materials are shipped and the materials themselves are non-hazardous,” said Jack.
Many of the protesters were Athens County residents, but the group represented people from all over the United States, said Ffitch. They chose the New Matamoras location because the company is trying to receive permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to begin shipping brine by barge on the Ohio River.
“The Ohio River is the primary drinking source for five million people. When one of these barges sinks, leaks, or spills it is going to contaminate a huge drinking source,” said Ffitch.
But Jack argues that shipping by barge is not only safe but also has the added benefit of reducing local road traffic.
“For every one barge accident, there are 2,055 accidents by truck and every barge load removes around 1,000 trucks from the roads,” said Jack.
Additionally, GreenHunter extensively tests all of the waste it transports and none of it is radioactive, insisted Jack.
But one accident is all it takes, argued protester Sasha White, and unlike oil, there is no known way to clean up after a fracking waste spill.
“This kind of spill is very different than an oil spill. Once it is in the water, it is already too late,” said White.
White said Appalachia Resist and other groups have already done similar protests in Athens County. Other groups participating in Tuesday’s action included Tar Sands Blockade, Radical Action for Mountain Peoples’ Survival (RAMPS), a coalition of indigenous leaders including representatives from No Line 9 and the Unis’tot’en Camp, Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, and Earth First! chapters from across the country.
The sheriff’s office will continue to keep a presence at the New Matamoras facility for “quite some time,” said Warden Tuesday afternoon.