January 14, 2014, by Dan Roberts

Extracting Ohio’s Natural Resources—Leaving an Indelible Mark – Part I

The name, Ohio, is Iroquoian in origin meaning, “great river.” Ohio reached statehood in 1803 as the 17th state. Under its beautiful rolling hills, waterways and vast, fertile farmland, lie incredible natural resources. Oil, gas and coal are abundant beneath its surface. Getting to these energy sources has become much easier with the advent of strip mining and fracking techniques. There is an effect on the pristine land as its once hidden treasures created by the decay of ancient forests is mined, refined and transported for use by consumers.

The Utica and Marcellus Shale deposits contain as much as 5.5 billion barrels of oil and as much as 20 trillion cubic feet of untapped natural gas according to the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. The net worth of these resources could be as much as $650 billion! The National Mining Association values the production of coal in Ohio at an annual amount of $553 million. That is a whole lot of a “good thing”.

Oil and gas are being extracted at a rate that is expanding exponentially in recent years. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, there were 1006 permits to drill recorded in Ohio in 2013. 617 wells were drilled through November 30th of this year. A permit ranges in cost from $500 to $1000 dependent on the population base of the township it is to be located. If less than 10,000 persons reside in the township, the cost starts at the $500 amount. Applications have specific information required which include the name of the company, exact location, and whom are the persons receiving royalties from it.

There are taxes and regulations on this mining. Governor Kasich’s 2012 Budget bill decreased a tax on natural gas and put an increase to 4% on liquid gas not realizing a much greater production of natural gas than anticipated. Ohio lags far behind states such as Texas who place a 7.5% tax on natural gas and 4.6% tax on liquid gas. Ohio SB 165 and SB 315 cover many aspects of the fracking operations. The Groundwater Protection Act (O.R.C. 1509.17) as well as the Oil And Gas Laws (O.R.C. 1501.9-3-04) serve to safeguard the environment at and below the surface.

What are the effects of strip mining and fracking? There are risks involved to the land and subsurface. Fracking has been blamed for tremors in northeast Ohio that registered on the Richter Scale. Contamination of the subterranean water supply is possible as brine water is injected through the casings far below the surface. This highly pressurized water is what fractures the rock layers below exposing the oil reserves. The brine water bubbles back up to the surface to be collected, used again, put in surface holding ponds, or pumped back down into the earth below the water table to be stored in rock layers. It takes as much as 6 million gallons of water for one fracking site. I have read of only one incident reported in a local newspaper near St. Clairsville (Freeport, Ohio) where the brine water was responsible for the killing of fish in a small stream. A typical drill site is perhaps about 50 acres in size. “New” wells have tall drill towers present on them. The older, more advanced sites simply have several green storage containers on them. A model site for the public can be found near Cadiz. It depicts what the eventual appearance of a drill site should look like.

Oil spills have occurred in the fracking process. It is not common and according to Marathon Oil Company, the use of pipelines to transport oil is far safer than the use of trucks. The Federal Office of Pipeline Safety reports just 36 deaths in the United States since 1986 that can be attributed to pipeline accidents involving hazardous liquids. Pipelines must be 75 feet in width and all pipe must be sunk at least 24 inches into the ground unless a variance is granted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Everything in the pipelines path is taken down in order to properly bury the pipe. It is quite easy to detect the swath of trees leveled for the purpose of a pipeline. It is all seeded with grass and brought back to a more natural state. The threat of erosion and topsoil contamination does exist….

To be continued…