COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio man who uses a biblical reference and a statement against “poisoned waters” on billboards opposing wells for disposal of gas-drilling wastewater is fighting a legal threat from the Texas well owner on free-speech grounds.
Austin, Texas-based Buckeye Brine alleges in a July lawsuit that the billboards paid for by Michael Boals, of Coshocton in eastern Ohio, contain false and defamatory attacks against its two wells, which dispose of contaminated wastewater from oil and gas drilling.
The complaint by the company and Rodney Adams, who owns the land and operates the well site, contends the wells are safe, legal and meet all state safety standards. The parties object to statements on two billboards along U.S. Route 36, including one that “DEATH may come.”
“The accusation that the wells will cause ‘DEATH’ is a baseless and malicious attempt to damage the reputations of the plaintiffs,” according to the complaint. “The billboards are also defamatory because they state or imply that Mr. Adams and Buckeye Brine are causing ‘poisoned waters’ to enter the drinking water supply.”
Shale oil and gas drilling employing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, produces millions of gallons of chemical-laced wastewater. The liquid, called brine, is a mix of chemicals, saltwater, naturally occurring radioactive material and mud.
It’s considered unsafe for ground water and aquifers, so Ohio regulations require waste liquid to be contained and injected deep underground. Ohio has recorded no aquifer contamination, but as the state grapples with some 16 million gallons of the wastewater a year, it’s seen earthquakes linked to injection wells and a Youngstown-area businessman indicted in a federal dumping case.
Boals, 55, a timber harvester, refuses to pull his billboards, which he said cost $1,000.