Two bills recently introduced in Ohio's General Assembly would put the brakes on fracking in the state until at least 2014.
Introduced this week, House Bill 345 and Senate Bill 213 prohibit "horizontal stimulation" of a well until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes a report on the study of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and drinking water. According to the EPA website, that report is expected sometime in 2014.
State Rep. Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, is one of the sponsors of the house bill, which she says is aimed at protecting the state's citizens.
"It's not so much that I'm opposed to drilling. I'm opposed to drilling when we don't have enough information regarding the impact to drinking water," she said. "I wish we did have the information, it was conclusive and we could move forward in a safe way."
State Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he opposes the bill.
"It's an unfortunate attempt to throw a wrench in a process that is working effectively, is appropriately regulated and ... ultimately will prove very beneficial to the state," he said.
House Bill 345 and Senate Bill 213 would ban hydraulic fracturing of horizontal wells until a federal Environmental Protection Agency study of the process and its impact on water supplies is completed.
According to the EPA, a report from that study is due in 2014.
Hydraulic fracturing is the process of pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well to fracture and release natural gas and oil in underground formations. Advances in technology have opened up the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to this process through the drilling of deep vertical wells and then drilling horizontal wells off of them.
The potential economic impact of the drilling has many excited but others have raised red flags, saying there isn't enough known about the effect of the process and disposal of the used frack water on the environment, particularly groundwater.
Thompson said the legislature already passed House Bill 153, with bipartisan support, to grant authority over permitting of oil and natural gas wells to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. That should keep Ohio from having problems experienced in other states, he said.
"There was an effort to prepare Ohio for this process," Thompson said. "Pennsylvania didn't have it; West Virginia didn't have it."
Experts in the field, including Marietta College's Bob Chase, who could not be reached for comment Friday, have said the process is safe when done properly. Chase has noted the horizontal wells are far below the water table.
But there have been concerns raised over drinking water after incidents in other areas.
"I think the conclusive study will happen at the federal level," Driehaus said.
As for the economic impact, Driehaus said allowing fracking before a conclusive study is done could have a negative effect.
"If you've got folks that live in a community with undrinkable water and a business in a community with undrinkable water, there are economic impacts," she said.
State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, said she is mindful of both the safety concerns and the potential economic benefits. She said she would have to study the issue further before deciding how to vote on the bill.
"There's a lot of important economic development moving forward," she said. "I just hope we can do this in a way that also includes the proper protection for our communities' drinking water."
Pam Howard, a Pleasants County, W.Va., resident who is a member of the Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group, said she believes most members of the citizen group would support the moratorium.
"That's one of our group's stances is trying to talk landowners into waiting until some of the regulations are in effect," she said. "The price per acre is only going to go up as long as they wait and the gas is not going to go away."
Marietta City Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, didn't say he would oppose the moratorium but questioned if it was necessary.
"I would hope that we could find out what problems (there might be) without having the moratorium because the number of jobs ... will be significant to our economy," he said.
Noland said his mind was set at ease over groundwater concerns after speaking with a Marietta College professor.
"She sort of made my fears about that pollution go away," he said.
Thompson noted Driehaus and her co-sponsor on the house bill are from Cincinnati and Columbus, respectively, two areas beyond the extent of the Utica shale.
"Those of us who are in southeastern Ohio are probably more familiar with the oil and gas industry and know that they are (generally) good stewards," he said.
Driehaus said although her district is not over the Utica shale, her constituents are paying attention.
"There is a very high interest in Cincinnati," she said. "You don't have to live in the northern or eastern part of the state to have concerns about hydraulic fracturing in Ohio."