COLUMBUS, OH — FEBRUARY 26: Terri Sabo (far right) with activists from Save Ohio Parks in front of the corporate office headquarters of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company to protest fracking under State Parks and Wildlife Areas, February 26, 2024, at One Nationwide Plaza in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

BY:  Ohio Capital Journal

Terri Sabo has a breathtaking view of Salt Fork State Park from her dining room window in Guernsey County.

She and her husband Rick Sabo have lived in their ranch home since 1983 — three years after they moved to Cambridge from Canton.

Terri loves the dark night skies the park provides, but more recently she sees the occasion flare from a fracking injection well about 14 miles away while standing on her front porch.

“We thought we would always have beauty, but Cambridge is so different than the ’80s,” Sabo said. “I mean, it’s so industrialized now and every, every other pickup truck has an Oklahoma or Texas plate. And it’s, it’s very, very different than it used to be.”

The presence of the oil and gas industry around Salt Fork and ongoing fracking have turned the Sabos into advocates trying to protect the land around Ohio’s largest state park. Well pads, injection wells and a couple of drilling rigs dot the area around Salt Fork and its winding roads.

“I’m past the sadness,” Sabo said, as she drove around Salt Fork on a recent Friday morning. “I’m into acceptance now. And it’s gonna happen.”

Fracking in Ohio

Fracking is the process of injecting liquid into the ground at a high pressure to extract oil or gas. It has been documented in over 30 states, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a law allowing drilling companies to frack in state parks back in 2011. Under the law, potential drillers had to get permission from the newly created Oil and Gas Commission, but Kasich never appointed members to the commissions — effectively preventing anyone from drilling in parks.

Then in 2022, an amendment to speed up the process for oil and gas companies to get a fracking lease in state parks was added to House Bill 507, which was originally written to reduce the number of poultry chicks that can be sold in lots from six to three.

The bill (dubbed the “chicken bill”) made it to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk and he signed the bill into law in January 2023. The law — which requires the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to allow fracking for natural gas in Ohio’s public lands and state parks — went into effect in April 2023.

Within the same week DeWine signed the bill into law, the Sabos got a letter from Texas-based company Encino Energy asking to buy their mineral rights — which they still haven’t done.

“You work all your life to build something and then they frack it,” Sabo said.

Encino Energy, the largest oil producer and second-largest producer of gas in Ohio, did not respond to questions sent by the Ohio Capital Journal.

 COLUMBUS, OH — FEBRUARY 26: Terri Sabo (center) who can see Salt Fork State Park from her home, weeps and calls out after the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission voted to approve a bid to drill under the park and two wildlife areas, February 26, 2024, at the Ohio Dept. of Public Safety, Charles D. Shipley Building Atrium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.) 

Recently, the Ohio Oil and Gas Land Management Commission selected the “highest and best” bidders to lease part of Salt Fork State Park, Valley Run Wildlife Area, and Zepernick Wildlife Area. This gives the green light for ODNR to lease parcels to these companies.

West Virginia-based Infinity Natural Resources had the winning bid to drill at least two parcels at Salt Fork for $58.4 million.

Encino leased three different parcels at Valley Run Wildlife Area in Carroll County for $1.05 million and leased one parcel at Zepernick Wildlife Area in Columbiana County for $231,692.

Sabo cried at the OGLMC meeting were the winning bids were announced.

“It’s just a very sad day,” she said after the Feb. 26 meeting. “My biggest immediate concern, obviously, is the loss of the park to (reindustrialization). I’ve really seen it grow and come back.”

Fracking incidents in Ohio

There were more than 1,400 fracking incidents associated with oil and gas wells in Ohio between 2018 and September 2023, according to FracTracker Alliance — a nonprofit that collects data on fracking pipelines. About 10% of those incidents were reported as fires or explosions.

During that same time period, there were 56 total incidents in Guernsey County (where Salt Fork is located), according to FracTracker.

“When the activities first started moving into the town, we were concerned with explosions and exposures,” Sabo said.

Encino Energy had five incidents during that time frame, and Washington County was the county with the most incidents in the state with 73, according to FracTracker.

Changes to the area

The Sabos first started coming to Salt Fork in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before they lived in Cambridge. They enjoy kayaking and biking at the park and have hiked almost every navigable trail in Salt Fork.

“We really are outdoorsy people,” Sabo said. “The hiking trails are great. And they’re beautiful.”

Fracking in the area has brought increased truck traffic, new power lines, and additional cell towers. In particular, it has brought brine trucks and Halliburton trucks that haul fracking sand.

“Who’s gonna want to move here?” Sabo said. “I mean, who’s gonna want to raise their kids here?”

They have two adult children and grandchildren, but none of them live in Guernsey County.

Sabo has learned to pick up on various clues — trees being trimmed and power lines going up — to learn where a new well pad is going to be built.

“You get suspicious of truck driving activity,” Sabo said. “And you will also see the infrastructure that starts getting built up for people to move in. Like they’ll put in new power lines and towers.”

She usually sees something new being built when she drives around the Salt Fork area.

“I wonder what they are doing?” she asked as she drove past new construction.

She was recently taken aback when she spotted new pipeline being put down next to the Bears Den Steakhouse in Cambridge.

“This is new since last time I went down this road, and we’re only talking pipeline right now,” Sabo said, visibly distraught. “Seriously, this was not here a week ago. Wow. … Forgive me if I’m shocked.”

What’s next for the Sabos?

The Sabos have turned their home into their own personal oasis by adding on to it throughout the years and their next addition will be a hot tub in the backyard.

They seriously considered moving a couple of years ago, but after much thought they have decided to stay — despite what’s happening to the land around them with fracking.

“It is beautiful here,” she said.

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on X.

Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.


Your comments can change our community

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.