Ready or not, the shale boom in Ohio is underway.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Utica and Marcellus shale wells have been drilled in Monroe and Noble counties, and permits have been obtained for several others.
None have been started in Washington County, but landowners are fielding offers for their mineral rights, and a handful of landowners associations have been formed to help people obtain favorable leases.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
David P. Tornes walks on his family farm in Waterford Township this week. Despite some concerns about the practice of hydraulic fracturing, Tornes has signed up with a landowners’ association to explore leasing the mineral rights to the nearly 500 acres of land that make up his family farm.
Critics have said Ohio is rushing into the process without knowing all the information about the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." It involves pumping millions of gallons of chemically treated water and sand deep underground to fracture shale formations and release trapped natural gas and oil. Although industry experts say the process is safe when done properly, questions have been raised over its potential impact on the environment, including drinking water and emissions from drilling equipment.
Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which regulates most aspects of oil and natural gas extraction in the state, said the state has strong rules in place thanks to legislation passed in 2010 and they're learning from the experiences of other states to ensure the environment is protected as the economic promise of shale exploration is realized.
"We're confident that those reforms, plus others we're looking at, will make Ohio one of the most carefully monitored and regulated states in the nation regarding well-construction and natural gas extraction," he said.
Coming up in The Marietta Times
- Monday: A look at the rising costs associated with fracking, from rental properties to the amount landowners can get for leasing mineral rights.
- Tuesday: A profile of Bob Chase, a Marietta College professor and oil and gas industry expert, who has served on many forums about fracking.
Oil and gas responsibility
- Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management - Regulates oil and gas drilling, production and reclamation operations; brine disposal operations; salt solution mining operations; and underground injection well operations.
- Ohio Environmental Protection Agency - Issues permits for construction activity that may impact state water resources and drilling units that emit air pollutants, and also requires proper management of solid wastes taken for disposal off-site.
- Local authorities - Regulate use of roads, including vehicle size, weight or load.
Source: Times research.
On the Web
-More information on Ohio's shale development regulations, and a list of permitted wells and their status, can be found at www.ohiodnr.com/mineral/shale/tabid/23415/Default.aspx
- Environmental regulatory basics on shale drilling from the Ohio EPA can be viewed at www.epa.state.oh.us/shale.aspx
- FracFocus, the hydraulic fracturing chemical registry website that is a joint project of the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission; www.fracfocus.org
-STRONGER Inc., the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, is a nonprofit organization that reviews states' oil and gas laws; www.strongerinc.org.
Waterford Township resident David P. Tornes, 73, admitted he has some reservations about leasing the mineral rights on the nearly 500 acres of property his family owns and farms.
"I could never really get excited about it, but it's going to happen," he said.
Tornes has joined a landowners association and said he feels better about the assurances he's received through that process. At this point, though, he's only willing to lease the rights to minerals in the Utica shale formation, which is thousands of feet below the aquifer from which he draws water.
Tornes' son, Greg, 40, said he's been working with his father on the issue of leasing mineral rights and he feels the state is in a good position when it comes to managing shale drilling.
"There are so many rules and regulations in place, I think it's safer than what people think," he said.
Sycamore Valley resident Ruth Partin, with Concerned Citizens of Monroe County, said Ohio is "absolutely not" ready for the shale development boom. She'd prefer the state not allow horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or disposal of waste materials from that process in injection wells. Barring that, she supports calls for a moratorium until more research and review can be completed on the possible environmental and health impacts.
"They're taking the cart before the horse," she said, pointing to reports of contaminated air and water in other states.
Senate Bill 165
Passed in 2010, Ohio's Senate Bill 165 lays out guidelines for the locations of wells, tank batteries and other surface facilities; the application process for drilling a well; various fees associated with drilling production wells and injection disposal wells; and more.
Under regulations established that year, companies drilling in Ohio are required to notify ODNR's Division of Mineral Resources Management at three points in the process: well construction, to ensure the casing is properly placed according to the permit; well control, the testing of blow-out prevention devices; and fluid control, to monitor the company's handling of the fluid. According to the ODNR website, "division inspectors place a high priority on witnessing these critical phases."
State Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he thinks that with SB 165, "a good groundwork has been laid."
"It is far-reaching and superior to anything the other states have done," said Thompson, who joined the House in 2011.
Ohio requested a review of its hydraulic fracturing program in 2010 by the nonprofit organization STRONGER (State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations) Inc. The review team described the state's program as "well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives," and also made recommendations for improvements.
State Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, was a House co-sponsor of SB 165, which she called "an attempt to get in front of" some of the issues associated with the rapid expansion of oil and gas drilling seen in states like Pennsylvania. She said the bill has been successful in some areas, but noted the legislation did not define all aspects of the processes it addresses.
"A lot of the regulations then are implemented through the rule-making process" by the chief of ODNR's Division of Mineral Resources Management, Phillips said.
Phillips said her office has requested a side-by-side comparison of the rules adopted with those in place in other states to see how Ohio measures up and if any steps need to be taken to tighten up some of those rules.
"I do think we need to keep looking at that and learn from the experience of other states," she said.
Thompson said it makes sense for the state to review its rules as new information becomes available but he doesn't believe sweeping changes are necessary. Constantly altering regulations also hurts the climate for the businesses trying to tap into the shale resources, he said.
"It's hard to hit a moving target," Thompson said.
LoParo said the rules in place for permitting are being reviewed by the governor's Common Sense Initiative and still must go to a legislative rule-making body for final approval.
He noted funding and staffing for regulatory efforts are tied to production in the oil and gas industry, so the agency can keep up with the expanding activity.
"We're going to triple the number of regulators that we have in the field this year," he said.
Gov. John Kasich also recently proposed "impact fees" to fund repairs to property and the environment needed as a result of extraction operations.
State or local?
SB 165 clearly places responsibility for the majority of drilling-related duties with the Division of Mineral Resource Management. That's been a point of contention in other states.
A New York state supreme court justice this week upheld a town's August 2011 zoning amendment banning gas drilling, and a similar challenge is pending in another county there.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed legislation that limited local officials' ability to keep drilling out of their towns. Numerous municipalities had passed their own regulations, drawing industry complaints about a lack of uniformity.
Some West Virginia communities enacted ordinances banning gas drilling but those were overturned last year by a circuit judge who ruled the state had sole authority in that arena.
A 2004 law removed from Ohio's roughly 1,300 townships of their authority to regulate such operations. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency handles some permitting with regard to air and water impacts, but otherwise, SB 165 says the only exception to the Division of Mineral Resource Management's authority is the use of local roads by trucks carrying heavy equipment and fracking byproducts.
Thompson said he thinks municipalities, townships and counties can address their concerns through ODNR or with the companies themselves.
"Nobody wants unhappy residents or customers," he said.
On the roads
Washington County is reviewing a draft resolution put out by the Ohio Department of Transportation regarding the regulation of its roads, said county administrator Paul Cunningham.
But in Noble County, rules are already in place, as trucks are traveling to and from five well sites that have been drilled or at least permitted.
County Engineer Mark Eicher said companies are required to post a bond to ensure they will maintain the roads on which their trucks are permitted to drive.
"We will dictate what roads they are allowed to be on," he said.
Companies are required to post a $350,000 bond for the roads on which they are permitted. If a road is damaged, the company is given an opportunity to make the repairs.
"If we collect on a bond from one of these larger companies, they will not be able to be bonded again," Eicher said.
In most cases, the companies do their share of maintenance and then some, Eicher said.
"They will widen the roads out, 'cause a lot of them are narrow township roads," he said.
In some cases, companies have removed ice and snow on roads to which they need 24-hour access, rather than expecting the townships to do it, Eicher said. And when one asphalt road was being heavily damaged, the company reimbursed the county for taking it back to gravel and agreed to repave the road once they were finished with it.
Eicher said he wouldn't want the state dictating how local roads are used, but he and other officials had no complaints about state oversight of the rest of the operations.
"I think the state, ODNR's, doing a wonderful job," said Noble County Commissioner Gary Rossiter. "I think the state's better equipped to handle it than the local level."
According to ODNR data, one well has been fracked in Monroe County's Washington Township, two more were drilled but considered "lost holes," and two more have been permitted. Township Trustee Larry Gardener said he's fine with ODNR overseeing those operations.
"They've got some pretty good inspectors and ... they keep a pretty tight rein to you," he said.
The Associated Press contributed.