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Experts discuss shale boom at YSU seminar

September 28, 2012

Experts from across the board joined together recently to discuss the effects oil and natural gas drilling will have in Columbiana and Mahoning counties, the state, and even the nation.

The experts, representing Youngstown State University, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Environmental Council, and Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, spoke during a seminar at the university that was hosted by the Ohio Newspaper Association and Youngstown Vindicator.

The purpose of the seminar was to generate more understanding about the drilling process and topics covered included its history-which dates back to the early 1900s, whether injection wells are related to earthquakes, whether enough water is available to continue the hydraulic fracturing process, and how the process affects the environment and economy.

University Professor Dr. Jeffrey Dick, who specializes in engineering geology, hydrogeology, geophysics, and petroleum geology, said drilling has only recently "skyrocketed" over the last two years.

He said there have been more than 270,000 natural gas and oil wells drilled in Ohio, and of those, 64,000 are currently active.

In what he called the Eastern Ohio Utica Fairway, there are 367 wells permitted and 137 wells already drilled. Of those, 33 are producing and 30 are still in the drilling stage.

Columbiana County is included in that fairway, and according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), one well is currently producing in Knox Township.

Dick said the big issue isn't necessarily hydraulic fracturing, but what will become of the brine once the fracking is completed. Fracking is a process used in drilling in which water, sand and other fluids are injected into the shale to extract the oil and gas stored there. The force of the injection causes the rock to break up, or fracture, releasing the oil and gas.

Dick said that due to the extent of wells being drilled the state is looking at "billions of gallons of brine and throwback" - the fluids left over as a result of fracking a natural gas well. The fluids are treated as wastewater and stored in injection wells, which have gained considerable attention from those who believe the wells have been linked to earthquakes, including those that occurred in Youngstown in late 2011.

He said there are approximately 190 injection wells in the state and doesn't believe the well in Youngstown caused the local earthquakes but did play a role in triggering them.

The underground disposal well owned by Northstar Disposal Services was shut down by the ODNR shortly after two earthquakes happened within 24 hours. The 4.0 earthquake was the 11th to occur there since March of 2011, and the shut down was requested so officials could analyze data and see if a link existed.

"You shut off a well and the earthquakes stop, you gotta think" there could be a link, Dick said.

He pointed out that Ohio receives billions of gallons of brine and flowback from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The states have bans on the wastewater recycling or disposal, despite having operational class 2 injection wells.

"Ohio has been a no risk dumping ground for a lot of stuff, including demolition and debris," Trent Dougherty, director of legal affairs for the Ohio Environmental Council, said.

Dick said that, in his opinion, class 2 injection disposal will be more difficult in the future. He said technology already exists for brine treatment facilities but the money is lacking.

With regard to fracking, he said there have been no cases in which the process was found to have caused water contamination. Surface spills, however, could cause contamination.

"Several fluids are dangerous and you are looking at potential spills. Spills are major environmental issues. A spill is going to happen," he said.

Senate Bill 315 enacted by Gov. John Kasich this summer allowed for more safeguards for the disposal of the fluids, he noted.

Rhonda Reda, executive director of the state's oil and gas energy education program, said the Utica Shale play in Ohio is bigger than that found in Saudi Arabia.

By 2015, the program expects output sales of oil and gas to be at nearly $23 billion. Most of the activity will occur in 2014 and 2015, and royalties paid on oil and gas are expected to reach $1.6 billion in 2015.

"We are drilling smarter and we are drilling better wells," she said.

She cautioned that the state, and the nation, should not rely solely on one energy source, however.

In 2009, the world used 100 quadrillion British thermal units of energy. By 2030, that is expected to jump to 124 quadrillion, she said.

She explained that a "large chunk" of the energy being used can be traced back to technology such as laptops, iPads, and other items.

"All these things require energy and our energy consumption is absolutely enormous," she said.

The state is currently the fourth largest energy consumer in the nation, she added.

University Professor Michael Costarell, who specializes in civil and mechanical engineering and is a certified energy manager, said that although alternatives exist, or are in the preliminary stages, people continue to use what is convenient.

He explained that a 40-minute drive in a car would take longer in a solar-powered vehicle that needs to be charged after every so many miles. He said that it would take 18 hours of charge time for a natural gas car to reach the same distance as a car on eight gallons of fuel.

Dougherty said there should be less dependence on fossil fuels.

As for how much water is being used in the drilling process, Dick said that six million gallons were used by oil and gas exploration company Chesapeake Energy on one well in Carroll County. Three-hundred tons of sand were also used with the water in the fracking process on that well.

Although water use is significant, Dick doesn't believe water sources will run dry as a result of the drilling.

Dougherty said that although there are risks to drilling, he didn't necessarily want to see it stopped.

"Our hope is we get more enforcement dollars to make sure this is done correctly," he said.



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