Conventional gas and oil drilling began in Ohio in the late 1880s in Clinton sandstone at depths of 4000-5000’. By the 1940s, dry hole rates approached 50%, and drillers concluded that Clinton was played out.
In 1951, drillers applied vertical hydraulic fracturing to the sandstone layers. They succeeded in creating vertical drainage paths that allowed natural gas and oil to move freely from the rock pores and be lifted to the surface. There was little degradation to the environment.
Today the process has shifted to high volume horizontal hydraulic fracking, or hydrofracking, to release gas by fracturing the deep Marcellus shale and deeper Utica shale layers. Once the drilling has reached the desired depth, the drill bits are turned horizontally. The shale is fractured horizontally using 4,000,000 to 7,000,000 gallons of water + caustic chemicals per fracking to release the gas. The horizontal fracturing can extend a mile, even two miles, from the vertical drilling shaft.
The evidence of environmental degradation is the center of controversy in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Australia, France and Canada. Specifically, the problem concerns water contamination from the chemical concoction used. The fact that multiple frackings are done in multiple, adjacent wells increases the likelihood of contamination.
Because the hydrofracking is done at depths where methane is present, some people’s water flames from the faucet if a match is put to it. Other people’s water is too salty to drink. While this sounds like strong evidence that fracking is the culprit, there’s not much that can be done about it.
First, because drilling companies are exempt from having to divulge which toxic chemicals are mixed in the fracking water, the by-product of which is stored in open pits at the drilling site. Some pits extend over 5 acres. The toxic mix can leak through plastic liners and can overflow during heavy rains.
And second, because they received an even bigger exemption in 2005 from “the Halliburton loophole.” At the request of Vice President Cheney, a former CEO of Halliburton, Congress exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. (I’m not kidding.)
And finally, because many leases are loosely worded as to the drilling company’s responsibilities.
As things stand today, neither the environment nor the landowner who signed the lease nor his neighbors are protected. Where should the toxic by-product be stored and safely disposed of? Where will the 4 to 7 million gallons of fresh water needed for each fracking come from?
There are many websites recounting the unfortunate experiences of Pennsylvania well owners and their neighbors. The hydrofracking racket and bright lights operate 24/7. Consequently, workers live on site in trailers.
Hydrofracking can take from 900-1300 truckloads for equipment, materials, tanker truckloads of water, sand, and wastewater—for each hydrofracking of a well. That’s a lot of heavy loads for a community’s roads to support.
Each well pad can cover 4-5 acres and contain up to 8 wells, each of which could be hydraulically fractured multiple times.
The EPA is studying the situation and expects to have a set of guidelines by the end of 2012.
The best minds say the Ohio General Assembly needs to issue a moratorium and order the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to withhold approval of new well permits for high volume, horizontal hydraulic drilling until the process is demonstrated to be safe for human health and the environment–and adequate methods are in place for effective regulation.
Sounds like a plan, Best Minds—except for the Ohio General Assembly part. They’re the ones who want to frack our state parks.
A week ago yesterday Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp filed 1,046 signed leases for natural gas and oil drilling in Stark County. Closer to home, several leases are already signed in Leroy Township and in Geauga County.
What’s your fracking hurry? The oil and gas in Ohio’s Marcellus and Utica shales aren’t going anyplace. They’ll still be there a year from now when the EPA and the State of Ohio might have regulations in place to minimize the environmental and human health impact of hydrofracking.
Let’s learn from the misery of our Pennsylvania and New York neighbors who rushed into agreements involving a process they didn’t understand and consequences they neither foresaw nor could control.
You aren’t familiar with the misery next door? Stay tuned. You will be.