Ohio Fracking Foes Push Water Safety, Republicans Tout Jobs

Ohio Fracking Foes Push Water Safety as Republicans Tout Job
Some Ohioans are asking for a ban on fracking for Natural Gas until the Environmental Protection Agency completes its study. Photo: Ty Wright/Bloomberg

House Republicans went to eastern Ohio touting hydraulic fracturing to add U.S. jobs and cut fuel costs. Instead, lawmakers met skeptical residents, highlighting the divide over environmental concerns about fracking.

While Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., the second-largest U.S. natural-gas producer, and Hess Corp. of New York seek well permits, some Ohio residents are demanding a ban until fracking is better researched and regulated.

“Shale drilling and the disposal of its waste products are an imminent threat to my livelihood,” Christine Hughes, owner of the Village Bakery and Catalyst Cafe in Athens, Ohio, said at the hearing yesterday. “No one has done a study to find out the impact of devastating this local food economy.”

Fracking in Ohio, which sits on a portion of the nation’s biggest shale formation, called Marcellus, is pitting residents against drilling companies over the concerns of environmental safety and job creation. The state is studying 11 temblors last year near Youngstown.

Hughes’s complaints were made to a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing in Steubenville, located 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Pittsburgh. The hearing included officials of the state and energy industry, who said standards have been introduced to ensure fracking is done safely.

U.S. Representative Bill Johnson, a Republican representing counties along the border with Pennsylvania and West Virginia, said at the hearing that fracking in Ohio may help create 200,000 jobs.

Rock Blasting

In fracking, companies blast shale with water, sand and chemicals thousands of feet underground to release trapped gas. The technique led to a record output of natural gas and pushed down prices of the fuel used for heating and power generation. It also triggered complaints about polluted drinking water.

Contamination of a water well in Bainbridge Township, Ohio, in 2007, cited by residents in their protests, was caused by poor well design, not fracking, Tom Stewart, executive vice president of Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said today in an interview at the hearing.

Ohio has strengthened well-design requirements to avoid similar accidents, he said.

The value of production from Ohio’s portion of the shale formation will increase to $9.6 billion in 2014, support 65,680 jobs and add $4.9 billion to the state’s economic output, the Ohio Shale Coalition said today in releasing a study by researchers at three state colleges.

‘Very Conservative’

The estimate doesn’t account for “downstream” benefits in industries using oil and gas for operations, Ned Hill, dean of the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University and a member of the study team, said during a news conference in Columbus. “We believe that this is a very, very responsible and very conservative modeling effort,” he said.

The drilling boom spurred more permits for disposal wells in Ohio during the past two years than during the previous decade combined. The volume injected was on a near-record pace last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources, and more than half was from out of state. That included 92.6 percent of the water sent to a Youngstown well closed last year after 11 nearby earthquakes.

The Ohio Natural Resources Department is reviewing data from the earthquakes, near an injection well used for disposing fracking wastewater. No quakes had been recorded there before.

‘Stop This Madness’

“It’s time to stop this madness,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, a geologist from Youngstown. “When people ask where they can live that they will be safe -- you’ve got to find a place where there isn’t any shale underneath.”

Beiersdorfer joined about a dozen state residents at the hearing urging a ban on the practice at least until the Environmental Protection Agency completes its study on fracking, which is by 2014.

Ohio has the expertise, budget and staff to properly oversee the natural-gas industry and prevent accidents, and responds in 24 hours to all citizen complains, Richard Simmers, chief of the division of oil and gas resources management at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said during the hearing.

The EPA and the Interior Department, which plans its own rules on fracking-well design, need to “stay out of” regulating fracking, Johnson said in an interview after the hearing.

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