Marcellus Formation

Fracking Fray Still in the News

Even though I haven’t discussed fracking lately it is still very much in the news. Over the weekend it was revealed that what appears to be a handbook for conning (or convincing) landowners to sign leases for natural gas drilling was found by a Greene County resident near her driveway.

The handbook outlines tactics and talking points for “landmen” or door-to-door energy company representatives. It paints Ohio residents as friendly but gullible and advises the representatives to deal with the men whenever possible warning that the women will ask more questions and the men are more likely to sign. It also instructs the landmen not to mention groundwater contamination or lost property values and to downplay natural gas drilling and rather emphasize they are drilling for oil. It also says to describe the hydraulic fracturing drilling process (fracking) as being radioactive free even though it concedes that it is not.

Many Greene County residents and environmentalists feel the memo belonged to Jim Bucher, a landman for West Bay Exploration Co., based in Traverse City, Mich.; however, executive vice president Tom Stewart of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association is convinced the memo is a hoax backed by the environmentalists.

Laura Skidmore,who found the memo inside a binder, said she was stunned by the contents. Residents say many of the talking points outlined in the memo were used by Bucher in his talks with the residents. Beginning last fall Bucher began sending packets containing lease documents to Greene County residents and followed up with home visits and phone calls. Meanwhile, local environmentalists were busy educating the public as to the hazards of natural gas drilling and fracking and the documentary Gasland was shown at the local theater.

Skidmore and her neighbor, T.J. Turner, took the notebook to Victoria Hennessey, president of the Greene County Environmental Coalition, who took action to publicize it. She scanned the memo and posted it on the organization’s website, called the media, and notified lawmakers. The memo can be viewed at

Please click on the link above and read the memo—it is quite an eye-opener.

Also in the news, big figures are being thrown about by oil and gas companies. The Chesapeake Energy Company said it expects to generate $15 billion to $20 billion from drilling in the Utica shale in eastern Ohio. For a comparison, Ohio had $665 million in oil and gas production in 2009. These are figures from only one company but several other companies are also planning to enter the state such as Devon Energy, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Chevron Corp. These figures from the Oklahoma based Chesapeake Co. are significant as they represent the first estimates related to the Utica shale in Ohio. The Marcellus formation is already producing returns in the southeastern part of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and nearby states. These formations have previously been inaccessible but with the introduction of hydraulic fracturing or fracking the rich gas can now be harvested from the shale.  The Utica shale is several thousand feet below the Marcellus layer and runs across the eastern half of the state, including the Columbus area.

 “There is a great deal of potential, but it’s really hard to determine how big it will be,” said Jerry Jordan, chairman of Knox Energy in Columbus. His company owns about 500 oil and gas wells in central Ohio. If the Utica lives up to its promise, Knox is one of many local businesses that stand to share in the windfall because of existing lease rights.

Jordan, 75, comes from an oil-business family, and he has been in the business all of his life. That experience, along with his training in geology, makes him skeptical when big numbers are thrown around. He points out that most of the state’s oil and gas companies are family owned and cannot compete with larger corporations who can afford to drill deeper into the Utica layer and maintain a series of wells. This could mean most of the profits will go to larger companies out-of-state.

However, as I have written about previously, this process comes with many risks including contamination to air and water including ground water and drinking water. In addition, the EPA has raised concerns about the disposal of the liquid waste that is a byproduct of fracking.

“We’re really pretty far from where we need to be in order for this activity to take place in Ohio, to protect our natural resources and community health,” said Ellen Mee, director of environmental-health policy for the Ohio Environmental Council, an advocacy group. She urges the state to look at what is happening in other states. She also points out there is now more doubt about shale gas than publicly portrayed. A report was published in the New York Times citing internal emails from the industry voicing doubts.

Gov. John Kasich told the Columbus Metropolitan Club recently that shale gas is “the revolution that’s come to Ohio.” He said the state needs to “answer the environmental concerns that are out there” and that “Ohio can be the model for how to get this right.”

I’m hoping this is one promise a politician can keep. I am not entirely against harvesting this resource. After all, I like an environmentally controlled house that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter just like everybody else. And we all agree this state could use another source of income. But I also want to know that the air we breathe and the water we drink is safe and clean. The challenge before our state leaders and citizens is to make these two elements compatible. Can we harvest this natural resource in a safe and clean manner without harming our environment? The challenge is now before Ohio to make us a leader in the field.






What the Frack Is All The Fuss Over Natural Gas (Part 2)

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Gold Mine at Our Feet

Ohio could be sitting atop a gold mine! Ohio sits on top of both Marcellus and Utica shale deposits which harbor enough natural gas to last us for many years to come. It is literally a gold mine at our feet. It is estimated that perhaps trillions of cubic feet of gas and billions of barrels of oil are buried under Ohio’s

Many stand to gain a lot of money from mining Ohio’s natural gas deposits. Energy companies are reportedly paying landowners $1500 per acre plus royalties for the rights to drill on their property. The state of Ohio also hopes to make up huge deficits from the money they stand to gain from leasing drilling rights to
energy companies to drill on state-owned lands in the state parks. Governor
Kasich has said this is a huge windfall for the state.

Several Ohio cities were hoping for a financial windfall for treating the brine from natural
gas wells but the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday, May
17, that cities won’t be able to treat the brine which is then dumped into
streams after treatment. The agency says it is concerned that the brine will
pose a pollution risk. The Ohio EPA’s recommended form of disposal is the use
of injection wells thousands of feet underground.

Steubenville, East Liverpool, and Warren, Ohio hoped to make money from the energy companies by treating the brine; but Warren is the only city currently treating brine for a
Lisbon-based company. The treated brine is then dumped into the Mahoning River;
however, the city’s treatment process does not remove salt from the wastewater.
The Ohio EPA announced it will not renew Warren’s permit to treat such brine
which expires in January.

Robert Disch, East Liverpool’s utility director, estimates his city could make at least
$168,000 a year. Chuck Murphy, Steubenville’s wastewater superintendent, said
his city could make as much as $300,000 a year. Tom Angelo, director of
Warren’s water-pollution-control plant, had hoped to charge as much as $150,000
a year to take the brine.

In eastern Ohio, energy companies are paying landowners for the right to drill into the
Marcellus and the thicker, more deeply buried Utica shale deposits. Companies
have so far drilled 59 Marcellus wells and an additional 10 into the Utica.
Hundreds more could be drilled, especially if Utica wells produce large amounts
of gas, and possibly oil.

Even though the State of Ohio hopes to lease land to energy companies, this process could
be bogged down for some time until it is determined who actually owns the
mineral rights to the land. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants to
open state parks for drilling. Officials say that proceeds from leases and
royalty payments would help reduce a $560 million maintenance backlog in state

Also, a bill was introduced in the House on Wednesday, May 18, by Rep. Dave Hall,
R-Killbuck, chairman of the House’s Agriculture and Natural Resources
Committee, which states that land owned by universities or that the state
bought with legal agreements that restrict how it can be used, would be
unavailable for drilling. “We wanted to show where you could drill and where
you could not,” said Hall, who sponsored the bill. The bill also creates a
five-member board to review all drilling applications and make a decision
within 15 days.

Tom Steward, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, which represents drillers, said his group supports the bill. He stated, “It became obvious that there were
lands bought with federal encumbrances where the state couldn’t ‘lose control’
of the properties.”

Environmental advocates remain opposed to drilling in any form. Jack Shaner, a lobbyist with the Ohio Environmental Council, said drilling breaks an implied promise that
parks won’t be developed or polluted. “I don’t care how much lipstick you
put on this pig, it’s still a pig,” Shaner said.  According to the bill, state university
officials would be able to OK drilling on their land.

The EPA’s Role

One would think that the EPA is keeping a close eye on the natural gas industry but they
were essentially excluded by the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The
act also includes a provision that the energy companies do not have to reveal
what chemicals are used in the fracking process. The Policy Act excludes HF
fluids, except for diesel fuel, related to energy production from regulation
under the UIC (underground injection control) program. However, states may
choose to regulate HF, if they wish.

I am not an expert in wastewater treatment, but during my years as editor for a quarterly
magazine for the Ohio Water Pollution Control Association (OWPCA), I learned
that before a treatment facility can treat incoming water it must first know
what chemicals are in the water. If, by law, companies don’t have to reveal the
makeup of the chemical mixture how can the wastewater be properly treated? If the
wastewater is not properly treated, then our streams and drinking water become

Along with the expansion of HF there has been increasing concerns about its potential
impact on drinking water resources, public health, and environmental impacts in
the vicinity of these facilities. Therefore, the EPA has begun a study to
understand the relationship between HF and drinking water resources.

This news should be encouraging but, in typical governmental fashion, the study will take
some time to complete. It was begun in 2010 and is not scheduled to be
completed until 2014. A series of community hearings were held last year and the
results of those hearings will be sent to the Science Advisory Board (SAB)
where the draft will then be revised in response to the SABs comments. Initial
results are expected by the end of 2012 with a goal of a full report in 2014.

In connection with the study, the EPA sent letters to 9 companies currently
involved in HF or fracking to gain information regarding the chemicals used in
the process and the impact of the chemicals on human health and the
environment, standard operating procedures at the HF sites, and the locations
of sites where fracturing has been conducted. The nine leading national and
regional HF service providers are:  BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Halliburton, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, RPC, Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services, and Weatherford. All companies but Halliburton (who developed the fracking process and was previously run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president) responded to the EPA request in a timely manner. Halliburton responded only after being
subpoenaed to do so.

Flowback is regulated not by the EPA but by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program which requires flowback to be treated prior to discharge into surface
water or underground injection prior to discharge. Underground injection is
regulated by EPA or a state with primary UIC (underground injection control)
enforcement authority. However, again, if the chemicals used in the process are
unknown, then proper treatment of the water is impossible.

It is certainly discouraging to think the gas drilling companies are running the
show. What were our fine representatives in Washington thinking when they
passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 or what is commonly known as the
Bush/Cheney Bill? The fact that two oil men were running the country tells us everything.
I hate to think what horrors are ahead of us with very few regulations placed
on the industry. Why don’t they want us to know what chemicals are being used? What
are they hiding?

We may have a gold mine at our feet but what will it cost us to tap into this mine? Are we
opening Pandora’s Box?