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Turnabout is Fair Play: Activists Sued Over Fracking Charges

The war of words over hydraulic fracturing (fracking) took an unusual turn recently when Brecksville, OH-based Duck Creek Energy Inc. filed a lawsuit against two anti-fracking activists, claiming that they have "spread false and defamatory information" about the company and one of its products.

Duck Creek Energy says Tish O'Dell and Michelle Aini, who are co-founders of Mothers Against Drilling In Our Neighborhoods, caused the company "to incur damages" by convincing Brecksville to stop purchasing its AquaSalina liquid deicer. The privately held natural gas and oil company is seeking $1 million in punitive damages.

O'Dell and Aini have in turn filed a counterclaim in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in which they claim that Duck Creek Energy filed its lawsuit "in an attempt to intimidate, harass and otherwise stop [them] from exercising their First Amendment rights." They also seek $1 million in damages.

AquaSalina has been environmentally tested in the past and has been approved by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as recently as December for use as a road deicer, according to Duck Creek Energy.

The company alleges that the activists have spread false information about the product, including disseminating an e-mail to a mailing list that included Brecksville Mayor Jerry Hruby that identified AquaSalina as a "waste fracking fluid being used on streets to melt the snow...I urge you to contact your city hall and tell them that you do not want them to use this toxic substance on your roads." Brecksville subsequently decided to no longer use the deicer.

But AquaSalina isn't a fracking fluid, according to the company; it is a raw brine solution that is derived from its gas and oil production process and is purified at a filtering plant in Cleveland. "Raw brine is completely contrasted with the fresh water that is used in the hydraulic fracturing process...'frac water' is fresh water that is pumped down a well as part of the fracking process and it returns as 'frac water,'" Duck Creek Energy said in its lawsuit. "There is little or no salt content in 'frac water.'"

The company sent an e-mail to the activists demanding that they retract their statements "as misinformed in their entirety." Instead, O'Dell and Aini continued their attacks, at one point asking the service director of North Royalton, OH, to "stop spreading carcinogens on our streets," according to Duck Creek Energy.

In their counterclaim, O'Dell and Aini claim that AquaSalina is a product of the fracking process and "contains various potentially harmful components," including benzene. They also claim that Duck Creek Energy's lawsuit contains "numerous and readily confirmable factual inaccuracies."

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