Monday, March 4, 2013

League of Women Voters Ask "To Frack or Not to Frack?"

To Frack or not to Frack is the question the League of Women Voters of Darke County will be asking at their first educational forum of the year. The forum, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the First Presbyterian Church in Greenville on Monday, March 18 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Joe Logan, Director of Agricultural Programs for the Ohio Environmental Council and co-chair of the board of directors for the Coalition for a Prosperous America, will be one of the featured speakers. He has been actively involved with researching and investigating fracking and its resulting waste-disposal sites throughout the United States, particularly as it impacts farmland and livestock.

Prior to his present position, he was president as well as director of governmental affairs for the Ohio Farmers Union and was chairman of the Finance Committee for the National Farmers Union. He was also a member of the board of directors of the Dairy Farmers of America, the nation’s largest dairy cooperative, and was vice chairman of its predecessor, Milk Marketing, Inc.

Joining him will be Dr. Julie Weatherington-Rice, Senior Scientist at Bennett and Williams Environmental Consultants and adjunct professor at the Ohio State University Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. She was appointed to the Governor’s Oil and Gas Regulatory Review Commission in 1986 and in intervening years has studied contamination sites from the spreading of brines for deicing of roads and leaking Class II injection wells. A leading expert on aquifers and water preservation in Ohio, she was a member of the team that mapped the area’s sole-source aquifer.

With the advent of Shale Gas drilling in Ohio, Weatherington-Rice teamed with the Ohio Environmental Council to coordinate technical scientific and engineering reviews of the current and proposed Ohio rule changes for oil and gas production and waste disposal. She has also met with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Regulatory Management to discuss new rules being promulgated.


Even though gas and oil drillers are promoting fracking as an old technology that has been done safely for years, Joe Logan is emphatic when he says, “The fracking of yesterday is not the fracking of today.” Not only is it larger in volume and scope, requiring 2 to 7.8 million gallons of water per well compared to 200,000 gallons in the past, but it can extract gas and oil from shale at depths of 10,000 feet, which were once impossible to reach, he said.

Fracking is not without problems, he said. Because water, alone, is not slippery enough to penetrate shale, it is laced with chemical compounds of which many are highly toxic to both humans and animals. It also competes for and depletes existing water supplies and has the potential to pollute air, water and soil, lower property values, produce booming noises and tremors, and completely change the landscape of the areas in which it is located. In addition to increasing truck traffic amounting to as many as 17,000 trips per well, it has caused horrific experiences for towns, farms and residences, he said.


According to operational reports, the well site is first drilled vertically through the water table. Once below the water table, the drill bit is turned at a ninety-degree angle enabling it to bore horizontally through the shale. The drill is removed and pipes are inserted and sealed together with cement to follow the vertical and horizontal paths that have been drilled. The horizontal pipe can extend four thousand feet or more and contains hundreds of perforations. It also enables drilling to proceed even deeper down through the encased well into the shale by repeating this process.

Once the pipes are in place, millions of gallons of water laced with sand and chemicals is injected under tremendous pressure amounting to as high as 10,000 lbs. per square inch. The water and the pressure that are needed depend upon the depth of the vertical line and the length of the horizontal line. As the water flows through the pipes, it is blocked by a cement seal at the end of the horizontal line. Because it is blocked, it builds up the force needed to eject through the perforations in the line. The tremendous force of the water fractures fissures into the shale, releasing the gas and oil it contains. Although one well can be fracked up to eighteen times, it requires the same amount of water each time it is fracked. Most wells average five fracks per well.

According to scientists - - as the chemically-laden water, which is called backflow or brine, pushes the oil and gas to the surface, it absorbs radioactive elements and other toxins that occur naturally in the shale. These combine with the chemicals - - some toxic - - some carcinogenic - - that are used in the injection process.

Because of these contaminants, the backflow must be captured, transported and vertically injected into Class II disposal wells, which are approved only for gas and oil waste disposal. However, according to scientific reports, only 15 percent of the backflow initially comes up. The rest has the potential to seep up over a period of time, which can take months or years.

Environmentalists question, “Will these wells be continually monitored throughout the years, or will they be abandoned and forgotten, exposing both present and future generations to unknown consequences?”


While fracking is occurring in eastern and central Ohio, reports indicate that disposal wells for the backflow are being considered for the Mount Simon Sandstone area, which includes western Ohio. According to a 2007 analysis prepared by the Ohio Division of Geological Survey, Columbus, Ohio, the Mount Simon Sandstone area is limited to western Ohio and the adjacent proto Michigan-Illinois basin. Its eastern limit is defined as extending from an area north of present day western Lake Erie southward to the northwestern Rome Trough boundary fault system.

In March 2012, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) first reported that backflow or brine injected under pressure into disposal wells near an unknown fault in Youngstown, Ohio, was determined to have been the cause of 12 earthquakes in an area that had never experienced so much as a tremor.

After this report was issued, Jim Zehringer, director of ODNR, announced that new environmentally responsible standards for transporting and disposing of brine, a by-product of oil and natural gas hydraulic fracturing, must be implemented. As a result of the findings, he said no permit would be issued until stricter regulations are implemented and each proposed site is studied carefully. He said well operators must submit more comprehensive geological data when requesting a drill site and the chemical makeup of drilling wastewater must be tracked electronically.

On June 11, 2012, Governor John Kasich signed oil and gas regulatory legislation. He said these laws establish one of the toughest regulatory frameworks in the country for overseeing the new technologies that allow for the exploration of natural gas in deep shale formations.

After the legislation was signed, Zehringer announced that 2,500 wells would be permitted in Ohio by 2015. This followed Pennsylvania’s announcement that 3,000 new wells would be permitted there. Ohio is already receiving 52 percent of Pennsylvania’s waste from fracking.


According to Julie Weatherington-Rice, “Since Ohio is taking any and all drilling and production wastes from shale gas wells from New York to Texas, the most significant impact to Ohio’s water and ecosystems is not shale gas production but waste transport and storage from the process.”

“Shale cuttings, production fluids and brines coming to Ohio daily by train, truck and barge, are more than doubling the volumes of waste being generated within the state,” she said. “These wastes, which are rich in heavy and radioactive metals, are targeted for Ohio’s ever expanding Class II injection well network.”


Mike Ekberg, Manager of Water Resource Monitoring for the Miami Valley Conservancy District, said that while the new laws are stronger in permitting wells and preventing seismic activity, they are lax in protecting Ohio’s water sources. He has expressed concerns about the possible pollution of the Great Miami Aquifer, which is part of Darke County’s sole-source aquifer.

“If this aquifer becomes contaminated, it will take years and millions of dollars to clean up,” he said. “Current methods of water treatment would not be sufficient to remove high concentrations of chemicals and other contaminants that are involved with fracking.”

Because Darke County is one of the leading agricultural counties in the state, farmers and industrialists depend upon this aquifer for their lives and livelihoods as do others who live and work in the Miami Valley.

Although fracking is promoted as having the potential to boost the economy while increasing jobs and decreasing dependency upon foreign oil, the final outcome remains to be seen. As Americans step into the future will fracking lead to a gold mine of prosperity or to a land mine that has cost them far more than they will ever get back?

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