June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Romanian visits Medina County for environmental exchange

Vlad Catuna, left, of Romania, visits an oil well Friday in Allardale Park on Remsen Road in Granger Township with Kathie Jones, right, and Sandra Bilek, behind Catuna, who are members of Concerned Citizens of Medina County. (LOREN GENSON / GAZETTE)

Vlad Catuna may live on the other side of the world, but the environmental battle he is fighting in his native Romania against hydraulic fracturing is nearly the same as the one Sandra Bilek and Kathie Jones are fighting here.

Bilek and Jones are co-founders of Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a group working to raise awareness about hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process for natural gas.

On Friday, they hosted Catuna, who is part of a European delegation on a six-week visit to the United States to learn more about community organizing and hydraulic fracturing.

All the delegates come from Eastern Europe, and while they are interested in community organizing, they are spending time apart over the next few weeks to study areas that interest them specifically.

Catuna said he wants to learn more about how people in the United States participate in community organizing.

“The main purpose is to change the power balance between people and local authorities,” Catuna said. He holds a master’s degree in anthropology and community development from Bucharest University, and works as an anthropology researcher at Unlock Market Research.

He said he became interested in working to oppose hydraulic fracturing when he learned the process was under way in his hometown of Barlad.

“It was a personal motivation because my parents live there, my grandparents live in a close village,” he explained.

Catuna said many people in Romania were not aware of hydraulic fracturing and the dangers the process might pose.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” involves injecting water, particles and chemicals underground at high pressure to break up shale and release natural gas.

Some of the concerns surrounding fracking include competition for water resources, contamination of water resources, risks to livestock and toxic air emissions.

“This is a poorer area of Romania. I’m not surprised to see they went here where the poor people are,” Catuna said. “They’re poor people living in the countryside.”

Bilek said she believes oil companies in the United States target less-populated and sometimes poorer areas also because they’re able to lease up land without drawing too much attention.

Catuna said he hoped to learn what the Concerned Citizens in Medina County were doing to raise awareness. Members shared with him the maps they had drafted along with County Auditor Michael Kovack to help people see where oil and gas companies have leased land in Medina County.

“We’re educating people that, yes, your water can become contaminated, too,” Jones said.

“We’ve shared it with townships, and there are now five or six townships (in Medina) that have banned fracking on their township property,” Bilek said.

Catuna said his group has had some success pressuring lawmakers in Romania to curb fracking. After posting a letter to elected officials on Facebook and getting attention from local newspapers, people started to take a stance against fracking near Barlad.

Catuna said there were two protests that included 8,000 or so Romanians. Some elected officials seemed to reverse their stance and even issued a moratorium on fracking until December.

But Catuna said those who have said they are opposed to fracking aren’t taking any action in the legislature, and he worries many may reverse their view after an election in December.

“I think this is Chevron’s strategy: OK, we’ll see who’s winning the elections to see who we’ll bribe and who we should be talking with,” he said.

After the discussion, Catuna joined Bilek and Jones for a tour of Mark Mangans’ property on State Road in Granger Township. Mangan and his wife, Sandra, filed a lawsuit against Landmark 4 LLC for contamination of their groundwater they believe stems from hydraulic fracturing activities completed by Landmark 4 LLC a half-mile away in 2008.

The Mangan’s neighbors, William and Stephanie Boggs, also filed a lawsuit alleging contamination.

The three visited the Mangans’ well in the backyard, which was determined to be a public health hazard in 2012 by the Ohio EPA because of elevated levels of methane in the water. Danger signs are posted near the well to keep anyone from lighting a match or lighter for fear of an explosion. The group also visited The Medina County Park District’s Allardale Park, in Granger Township, where the well owned by Landmark 4 LLC sits.

Catuna took photos and said the problems in Ohio are why he is fighting hydraulic fracturing at home.

“We believe we need to start informing people, what’s happening,” he said.

Contact Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.