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Group Navigates the Ohio River to Protest Shale Gas Extraction

An organization is passing a baton along the Ohio River using human-powered transportation to bring attention to the potential dangers the shale gas industry poses to water supplies.

The Great Ohio River Relay kicked off Sept. 14 at the Mr. Rogers Memorial Statue where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers merge to form the Ohio. It will travel the entire 981 miles of the Ohio River to Cairo, Ill. where it feeds into the Mississippi.

“This has been done by human power,” said Wheeling Water Warrior Bob Heyer, “walking, cycling, kayaks, canoes that sort of thing, so basically no fossil fuels involved in transporting this baton.”

Along the winding banks of the Ohio the baton is making stops at rallies and events planned by local anti-fracking advocates. More than 15 different organizations are working with the Wheeling Water Warriors to put together events and transport the baton.

The relay was conceived in opposition of a proposed water storage facility planned for Wheeling, W.Va. that would store the wastewater from fracking, and then ship the water down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to be used at injection wells. The designated site for the plant would be a mile from the main treatment facility for Wheeling’s drinking water and within a residential area. The plan has sparked resistance from members of the community who then organized as the Wheeling Water Warriors.

“We’re very alarmed about that because the Ohio River is the drinking water of over five million people,” said group founder Robin Mahonen, “and 10 percent of the entire population of the United States lives in the Ohio River Basin.”

As of Sept. 23, the baton has covered 359 miles of the Ohio to reach Huntington, W.Va. Protests were held in Wheeling, W.Va; Marietta, Ohio; and Point Pleasant, W.Va during the nine days of the trip. Rallies are also being held in Cincinnati and Cairo, Ill. when the relay comes to an end sometime in early October.

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