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Fracking and Farmland: Mardy Townsend Tells Her Story

Mardy Townsend raises grass-fed beef cattle at Marshy Meadows Farm, comprised of 225 acres near Windsor, Ohio. The land has been in Mardy’s family since 1972 and her mother, Marge, raised field crops and hogs there. In 1993, Mardy transitioned the farm to a grass-fed cattle production, since the rolling hills are best suited for grazing. Mardy also grows hay and has a larger personal vegetable garden.

The Townsend family has long valued the importance of environmental stewardship, and currently 175 acres are protected by a conservation easement.  Marshy Meadows Farm first received organic certification in 1996 and the beef has been certified since 2011. Mardy will not be able to renew certification of her livestock this year due to financial difficulties and a hay shortage after the summer 2012 drought, but she hopes to be able to re-certify in the future.

Like many farmers, Mardy struggled with last summer’s drought. She knows that her farm is at the mercy of many factors beyond her control—weather, climate change, and most recently, fracking. She lives near two fracking waste water injection wells, and worries that the wells and nearby fracking could pollute her water and soil and poison her livestock. 

Fracking Waste Water

Currently, fracking waste injection wells are located two miles upslope from Marshy Meadows Farm.

Ohio has 181 injection wells which received nearly 170 million barrels of fracking waste between 2007 and 2010. The fracking waste water contains toxic chemicals used during the drilling process and naturally occuring materials brought to the surface such as cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. State officials say there is no evidence that the wells have created environmental problems, but critics remain skeptical. In 2011, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources revealed that a waste water injection well induced a series of 12 earthquakes near Youngstown, likely caused by waste water seeping into permeable rock which intersected with an unmapped faultline.

In addition to the existing injection wells, land maps show that Mardy's land lies above thick Utica shale deposits and many of her neighbors have signed fracking leases.

Mardy has four water wells on her property that she relies on for both personal and farm use. If her groundwater was to become contaminated by the nearby wells or fracking, the effects would be devastating. 

"If our water wells were to become contaminated, livestock, vegetable, and small fruit production, organic or not, would not be possible," says Mardy.

To help protect herself, Mardy has paid for baseline water testing for her wells.

Mardy has good reason to be concerned about her farm's water quality. At every step of the fracking process, from injection and recovery, to storage and transport, there is the potential for contamination of water through underground fissures, spills, leaks, and blowouts. Well failures are relatively common at drilling sites. In 2011, Pennsylvania levied 141 violations against Chesapeake Energy alone. Of those, 24 involved failures of well integrity or underground leaks. And when scientists at Duke University examined 60 sites in New York and Pennsylvania, they found "systematic evidence for methane contamination" in household drinking water. Water wells half a mile from drilling operations were contaminated by methane at 17 times the rate of those farther from gas development.

Mardy gets mail from energy companies almost daily. Unlike many of her neighbors, a company representative has yet to pull in the driveway, which she attributes to the "Stop Fracking" sign in her front yard.  

Although Mardy is an active and vocal member of her community, at first she was apprehensive to speak out about a contentious issue like fracking. Nevertheless, Mardy decided to organize an informational meeting in her community about the potential dangers associated with fracking. To her amazement there were more than 100 people in attendance. Today, Windsor is littered with "Stop Fracking" yard signs.

Join Mardy in taking action against fracking.

What You Can Do

If more Ohioians like Mardy speak up, we can make a difference. Current oil and gas laws prioritize corporate interests over the rights of property owners, the health of Ohioans, and the ability of local governments to make choices about their communities. Help Mardy and other farmers by taking action today!

Step 1Send a letter to Governor Kasich and your state legislators. Urge them to establish strong regulations on the fracking industry. 

Step 2Schedule a meeting with your state legislators. 

Step 3: Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and help educate your community and local decision-makers about the risks of fracking. 


To learn more about fracking and farmland, click here.

Are you a farmer impacted by fracking that would like to share your story? Click here.

To find out how to get involved and help protect Ohio’s farmland from fracking, contact policy@oeffa.org or (614) 421-2022 Ext. 208.

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