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Report Highlights Ohio Mom on Front Lines of Oil and Gas Boom

Jill Antares Hunkler of Belmont County lives near the Humphryes MarkWest compressor station. (John Morgan)
Jill Antares Hunkler of Belmont County lives near the Humphryes MarkWest compressor station. (John Morgan)
July 30, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As federal officials roll back regulations for pollution from oil and gas facilities, a new report highlights the struggles of one Ohio mother trying to fight back.

The research by Moms Clean Air Force documents the effects of air pollution from oil and gas infrastructure through the stories of seven women whose families are confronting the issue.

Jill Antares Hunkler of Belmont County is among them. She called fracking "an invasion of her life." She said it started with a pipeline constructed near her home. But things really changed after a compressor station was built about a mile away.

"We are in the valley below it, absolutely downwind from the facility,” Hunkler said. “And pretty immediately after it became operational my neighbors and my family began experiencing negative health impacts."

Headaches, along with nose, eye and throat irritation, were the initial effects that she said were eventually accompanied by nausea, vertigo, rashes, numbness and body pain. Because she wanted to protect her family and community, Hunkler said, she became an advocate and joined others in the fight for air and water protections from oil and gas operations.

When it came to the nearby compressor station, Hunkler enlisted the help of Earthworks. The organization took infrared pictures that revealed grey plumes of gases released from the compressor station into the air. After contacting state and local officials, the company eventually was cited.

But Hunkler contends the emissions have not stopped.

"The last time I spoke to a representative at OEPA, he basically, in a roundabout way, said it wasn't safe for residential areas,” she said. “But because it's not zoned residential or zoned anything, they were limited in how strict they could be about the pollution coming off that facility."

According to the report, more than 8 million tons of methane smog-forming volatile organic compounds are released into the air every year. Cancer, blood disorders, neurological problems, respiratory diseases and asthma attacks are among the possible health impacts.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH