Debate over controversial extraction technique divides Ohioans
By David H. Landon
The Village of Yellow Springs recently passed a resolution calling for a statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking, is the process of initiating and propagating a fracture in a rock layer by employing the pressure of a fluid as the source of energy. The fracturing is accomplished from a well-bore drilled into reservoir rock formations, in order to increase the extraction rates and ultimate recovery of oil and natural gas. Although there are no known fracturing operations in Yellow Springs, the council has passed the resolution as an effort to address what they believe are serious consequences of unregulated fracking.
Hydraulic fracturing for stimulation of oil and natural gas wells was first used commercially in 1949, and because of its success in increasing production from oil wells, it was was quickly adopted and is now used worldwide. Annually, as much as 90 percent of the natural gas produced in the U.S. is shale gas extracted by means of hydraulic fracturing.
Environmental risks include:
1.) The escape of methane gas into the atmosphere. A recent study has indicated that the impact of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (both fugitive and combustion) associated with shale gas may be up to 20 percent greater than the GHG emissions associated with coal-fired generation.
2.) Contamination of ground water supplies by drilling fluids and methane gas.
3.) Difficulty in treatment of drilling fluid-contaminated wastewater. The potential costs associated with possible environmental clean-up processes, loss of land value and human and animal health concerns are under study and undetermined at this time.
A 2004 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study concluded that the process was safe and didn’t warrant further study because there was “no unequivocal evidence” of health risks, and the fluids were neither necessarily hazardous nor able to travel far underground. However, two studies released in 2009, one by the U.S. Department of Energy and the other released by the Ground Water Protection Council, address hydraulic fracturing safety concerns. Chemicals which can be used in the fracturing fluid, including kerosene, benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, are not directly used as treating chemical additives but can be a small component of the specific chemicals used in the job. A complete listing of the chemical formulation of additives used in hydraulic fracturing is not currently available to landowners, neighbors, local officials or health care providers. This practice is under scrutiny as well.
In June 2009 two identical bills named the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (FRAC Act) were introduced to both the House and Senate, designed to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act. This would allow the EPA to regulate hydraulic fracturing that occurs in states which have not taken primacy in UIC regulation. The bill required the energy industry to reveal what chemicals are being used in the sand-water mixture. The 111th Congress adjourned (January 3) without taking action. The current Congress re-introduced the FRAC Act on March 24.
Love thy neighbor, don’t poison them
By Jolene Pohl-Crowell
Call me crazy, but I don’t think my neighbor should have the right to poison my neighborhood. If you are in desperate need of money and considering leasing your property to gas and oil companies, you may want to step back and look at the bigger picture. Money will only get you so far after your land has been stripped of its resources. It is open season on vulnerable Americans who have lost their way due to economic strain. The fracking method used today has never before been attempted at such depths for gas deposits but companies are betting on Americans to not know the difference.
To be honest, if I were offered $5,000 per acre to lease my land, there would be a strong urge to say, “Where do I sign?” I may even trust that companies have my best interests in mind as I skip the small print. Fortunately, some Ohioans have the benefit of the hindsight by other landowners who have signed on the dotted line. Listening to the landowners instead of the gas and oil companies seems to be the best way to gauge the outcome of leasing property. After all, what do landowners have to lose? If landowners were exposing stories and evidence about the contamination of ground water and air quality more often, I would stick with the people who aren’t making a profit from my signature. Putting politics and government responsibility aside, I would hope my neighbors would use common sense before signing over to an industry with such a poor track record for public safety.
The Green Environmental Coalition (GEC) in Greene County has recently focused on educating landowners about the risks associated with leasing to gas and oil companies. Vicki Hennessy is president of the non-profit organization and said “abstract” promises are made by gas and oil companies to get people to sign the lease to drill. Hennessy said there is no real way a company will know what kind of profit will be made before drilling begins, but that doesn’t stop promises of bonus prizes.
Residents should never consider any lease agreement without first discussing the details with their lawyer according to Hennessy. She said drilling for oil and/or gas resources utilizes several acres and the property is completely cleared. Included on the GEC website is a gas and oil industry “talking points” list with directions for company employees to sell landowners into leasing their land: “Ohio is a conservative leaning, Midwest state. The typical Ohio resident will welcome you into their home and allow you to speak. This is critical. Face to face interaction can make the difference.”
The list continues with instructions on how to make sure a lease is signed as quickly and easily as possible. It also refers to topics to avoid discussing, including water quality. This list was obtained on the property of a prospect of West Bay Explorations Inc. in Greene County. Hennessy said West Bay has recently been evaluating the Miami Valley.
“We’re not overreacting,” said Hennessy. “There are too many incidents of contamination. You can visibly see the damage, the traffic, the pollution.”
Concern by local communities is growing stronger as more stories of contamination problems begin to surface. Mary Clare Rietz of the Ohio Alliance for People and Environment, a group partnering with grassroots community organizations and the Network for Oil & Gas Accountability & Protection, educates communities across Ohio. There have been two regional state meetings with landowners who want to know more about their rights and the leasing process. Rietz’ group provides education and works with local officials as well as challenges the state revocation of the rights of local communities to zone for drilling. Recently, the mayor of Athens, Ohio was in attendance and discussed a ban ordinance. Rietz said more communities are claiming their right to protect themselves from contamination. The approach is similar to a strategy in Pennsylvania against factory farming. The focus of bans is to emphasize the local community rights over those of a corporation.
Rietz noted it is an “uphill battle” for residents to get out and inform their neighborhoods about leasing to the industry, but there is a lot of movement in the communities.
“They say it is good for the economy, but where it’s happening [it’s] ‘Hey, we don’t want it,’” said Rietz.
Despite individual concerns about leasing private property to gas and oil companies, Governor Kasich has already overridden such concerns by allowing toxic chemicals onto public grounds and drilling in state parks. In addition to the damage from drilling, the state is already suffering the effects of storing fracking waste shipped in from Pennsylvania. There are multiple reports of manmade earthquakes in areas with injection wells, areas of land that are filled with millions of gallons of toxic fracking waste. Ohioans are already paying the price for their neighbor’s poor decisions.
While the experts evaluate the side effects of chemicals used for modern-day fracking, the stories of illnesses and contamination continue to add up against the industry. Neighbors and concerned citizens are reaching out to educate their communities about the dangers of drilling on their property. The unanswered questions that no one, from Congress to the EPA to the oil and gas companies, will attempt to confront are the real problem. If no one can give the public answers and assurance that safety is the number one concern over profit then there should not be cooperation by citizens to sign away their property and mineral rights.
For further information about state and local oil and gas drilling please visit www.neogap.org and www.greenlink.org. The Greene Environmental Coalition is hosting an information session and ‘Gasland’ screening on Monday, August 15 at 6 p.m. at the Dayton Public Library in downtown Dayton.
Jolene Pohl-Crowell is a dedicated Dayton democrat volunteer/activist and a WSU grad student. Her favorite past-times include banter, debate and laughing out loud. She can be reached at JolenePohlCrowell@DaytonCityPaper.com.
Government is the problem. Property rights are the solution.
By Mark Luedtke
It’s hard to separate fact from fear-mongering in the fracking debate. Several months ago I saw a report that the water supply of people in Pennsylvania was contaminated with methane. One man literally lit his water on fire. He blamed this on fracking under his land. He also blamed sick cows on methane released from fracking.
Fracking is clearly the new bogeyman of the environmental lobby. The movie Gasland documents another man lighting his tap water on fire. With President Obama’s Environmental Protestion Agency on their side and these powerful videos, they think they have a winning issue in their fight to cripple energy production in the U.S. What the reports don’t say is methane leaks into the water supply naturally near sources of natural gas. There’s no way to prove fracking caused the contamination of the water supply.
Even though fracking has been going on for 60 years, Vicki Hennessy, from the Green Environmental Coalition in Yellow Springs, explains that the technique has evolved, explaining why fracking has become such a hot issue.
“Until recently, if a well was fracked, it occurred at the base of a vertical well,” she said. “It did not involve horizontal drilling or chemicals, and much less water was needed. This ‘unconventional’ method of drilling, which requires millions of gallons of chemically laced water, has only been happening since about 2004. Most of it has occurred in western states with wide-open spaces — Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Arkansas — and only recently began in the east, where the population density is much greater. This new method of hydraulic fracturing allows a wider expansion of drilling into deep shale layers.”
Two major problems Hennessy lists are drilling companies use of carcinogenic chemicals in the water that end up back in the water table and that the process removes a tremendous amount of water from the water table by trapping it deep underground.
Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes, Hennessy reported, “In Arkansas during the past couple of years, there have been over 1,100 earthquakes related to deep injection wells. The gas company stopped using these injection wells due to public outrage, and the number of earthquakes lowered by 50 percent.”
Gas companies are on the other side of this issue. They claim fracking is perfectly safe with benefits including lower energy prices, less dependence on foreign oil, and jobs. The New York Post reports on an industry-funded study regarding the Marcellus shale field under Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and Ohio, “The study estimated that gas production this year would rise by an additional 250 percent and that during the next nine years, Marcellus Shale production could supply 25 percent of the nation’s natural-gas needs.”
Energy companies also tout that clean burning natural gas doesn’t release green house gases into the atmosphere. Hennessy countered, saying, “Although natural gas burns ‘cleaner’ than coal, because of the amount that escapes during the drilling process through leaks, spills, blowouts, accidents, etc., it actually is worse than coal for global warming. Natural gas is methane, which is about 20 times more potent as a green house gas than CO2.”
So we have two powerful special interest groups battling over who controls government’s power to advance their interests at our expense. Political theater is heating up as Obama’s EPA challenges state agencies that support fracking.
Fox Business reported, “The Texas Railroad Commission said Tuesday that Range Resources Corp’s (RRC) natural gas drilling operations weren’t responsible for contamination found in water wells in Parker County, outside of Fort Worth.”
I don’t know whom to believe, but I know one thing for sure: government is the cause of these problems, not the solution.
Hennessy explained how Ohio government overrules the rights of property owners to advance the interests of the gas companies through a process called mandatory pooling, “Drilling companies establish arbitrary ‘drilling units’ which comprise the properties of several property owners. It is within that area that a well (or wells) will be drilled. In Ohio, 65 percent of the property within the drilling unit must be under a signed lease before the company will be given a permit to drill. The other 35 percent of the land is then open to drilling whether or not the property owner signs a lease.”
So if a big landowner near you signs a lease with a gas company, that company could frack under your land without your permission and you’d get nothing.
On the other hand, environmentalists are trying to get government to ban fracking altogether, which also overrules the rights of property owners. New York has already done so.
The solution to this issue is to get government out of the way. Property owners should negotiate with gas companies to allow fracking under their property or not. The gas company should be responsible for all the consequences of its activities, good and bad. If we lived in a free society ordered by property rights instead of government violence, fracking wouldn’t be an issue.
Mark Luedtke is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Cincinnati and currently works for a Dayton attorney. He can be reached at MarkLuedtke@DaytonCityPaper.com