“You know you’re in trouble when you see Halliburton trucks arrive.”
That’s what Jill Antares Hunkler said to her sister the first time they spotted a Halliburton vehicle lumbering through their small village of Barnesville, Ohio.
Nestled in southeast Ohio about halfway between Columbus and Pittsburgh, picturesque Barnesville is dotted with forests, streams and reservoirs. Halliburton is a multinational corporation that operates industrial facilities all over the world. Jill wants to protect her community’s drinking water and the air they breathe. Halliburton and companies like it are intent on fracking every last bit of oil and gas they can sink a drill into, at the expense of local communities that bear the risks of air and water pollution.
Halliburton arrived in Barnesville to expand its oil and gas empire. Jill knew she had only one mission: To protect her family and community. Her faith, both spiritual and religious, is helping to guide her path.
Soon after Jill saw the truck, land agents started knocking on her door, asking to lease the fracking rights to the minerals embedded underneath her home.
But Jill didn’t sign over her rights. Instead, the 43-year old mom, teacher and artist added “environmental activist” to her portfolio and began researching what the potential impacts of oil and gas development in her community might be. She learned that, on average, fracking uses large volumes of water, 11,000,000 gallons, mixed with sand and chemicals that is pumped into the earth at very high pressure. The natural gas and fracking water comes back up to the surface but is now contaminated with salts, heavy metals, and harmful chemicals. When a trucking accident spilled 5,000 gallons of fracking wastewater into the Barneseville reservoir, Jill and her neighbors knew they had to mobilize.
“Once the devastating facts were presented to me, there was no choice but to take the sword of truth and lovingly demand protective efforts and positive change,” Jill declared.
Her native and religious background have helped sustain her, along with her passion for the issues. She formed Ohio Allies as “the continuation of the efforts made by my Shawnee and Quaker Ancestors to protect their rich natural heritage…By honoring the ways of the Ancestors, we become empowered by the truth to take action…becoming the solution for this and future generations.”
She drew on other traditions as well. “The Apache translation for “god” is “the spirit that moves through all things,” she says, an interpretation that resonates deeply with her.
And, recalling the Catholic church services she attended with her Grandmother, Jill noted that “I’ve always had a love of the true teachings of Jesus,” she remembers. “His spirit empowers me to do my work.”
But whether Native or Christian, “I see good in all religions,” avers Jill. “They have a common core: to love, honor and respect all life.”
Thanks to the organizing that Jill and others did, their group of concerned citizens, Concerned Barnesville Area Residents, launched a petition drive that garnered 2,300 signatures and prompted the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to establish a Source Water Protection Plan to address the potential threats to all of the area’s drinking water reservoirs.
Jill’s website, Ohio Allies, provides current information to activists and elected officials who need to know more about how oil and gas operations will impact their community. Jill launched a radio show that makes it easier to keep people updated. She also speaks widely to audiences who realized they need to know a lot more about fracking to protect their families and communities.
Jill’s activism keeps her hopeful. But she harbors no illusions about what she and others are up against, especially since Donald Trump was elected president and appointed Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. Trump has made it clear that he wants to expand fossil fuels and Scott Pruitt is working to dismantle vital safeguards that would reduce harmful pollution from oil and gas operations leaving families and communities without protections. Pruitt may be one of the most anti-environmental protection administrator in the history of the agency.
“Pruitt is a disaster,” Jill says unequivocally. “What we’re seeing right now is terrifying,” she says, confirming that “Locally, we need protections for our air and water more than ever.”
It’s a real uphill battle. What keeps Jill going against such incredible odds?
Her Native American and Christian roots.
“We hope to make great strides to further water, air quality and land conservation efforts and to foster a “leave no trace” public policy in respect to the maintenance of Ohio’s valuable natural resources. Our pursuit is fueled only by the innate knowledge that it is our responsibility to future generations to leave a legacy of love for our one planet.
“Activism starts at home and in your community. Local action and grassroots movements are needed evermore, absolutely everywhere.”