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Water contamination worries surface over shale drilling



Published: Sun, December 12, 2010 @ 12:10 a.m.

Water contamination worries surface over drilling procedure

By Grace Wyler

gwyler@vindy.com

Canfield

The natural-gas FRENZY has put local landowners in the middle of a contentious debate over the environmental costs of drilling.

As oil and gas drillers prepare to tap into eastern Ohio’s lucrative shale formations, the industry has increasingly come under fire from landowners and environmentalists who claim drilling techniques are contaminating water supplies.

The conflict centers around a common drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing. The process, used in nine out of 10 of the country’s gas wells, involves millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals pumped into a well to break apart the rock and release the gas.

On a recent morning, Pebble Beach Court — a sleepy, affluent neighborhood off of Tippecanoe Road — got a glimpse of the controversial practice that has sparked widespread political and environmental argument.

Trucks lined up along the quiet street, pumping more than 121,000 gallons of water and 50 tons of sand deep into the earth at high pressures.

The new well is owned by EverFlow Eastern, a Canfield-based oil and gas company that has been drilling in Northeast Ohio since the early 1980s. The company drills into the Clinton Sandstone, a thick gas reservoir prevalent in much of eastern Ohio.

EverFlow uses hydraulic fracturing to drill all of its wells, said Tom Wood, a petroleum geologist contracted by EverFlow. Without the technique, it would be impossible to access natural gas trapped in the Clinton’s tight pores.

“Hydraulic fracturing is an integral part of every one of the wells that we drill — they have to be hydraulically fractured to be commercially productive,” he said. “Not once have we messed up a water well.”

Wood added that he has hydraulically fractured more than 1,300 wells without incident.

The well construction process is designed to protect the water supply, said George Strawn of EverFlow. Wells are lined with steel pipe casing that extends below aquifers and solid cap rocks into the targeted geological formation.

Hydraulic fracturing occurs at least 5,000 feet below the surface, Strawn said, making it unlikely that the chemicals used in the process could cause contamination in the water supply.

Chemical additives make up only a small portion of the fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Program, an industry-sponsored educational initiative. Sand and water make up about 99.5 percent of the solution, with the chemicals serving as a “propellent” to reduce friction and keep the formation open so natural gas can move into the well, she said.

The process, which has been used in commercial wells since the late 1940s, is a major technological advancement for the drilling industry, Reda said.

“You are not going to drill a well today without using this kind of production-enhancing technique.”

Both Strawn and Reda conceded that problems can arise from improper well construction or careless well operation. There have also been cases of water contamination from hydraulic-fracturing wastewater, the briny fluid that returns from the bottom of the well. This chemical-laden water is sometimes stored in open pits until it can be shipped to wastewater treatment facilities or put back into underground injection wells.

Flawed or leaky pits have resulted in some instances of groundwater contamination.

But Reda emphasized that Ohio has never had a case where hydraulic fracturing was cited as the source of water contamination, a claim confirmed by state records.

Natural-gas drilling is regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Minerals Management. The division’s 21 full-time agents oversee about 34,000 natural gas wells.

There are 10 agents assigned to the 16 counties in Northeast Ohio, said Tom Tugend, deputy chief of the division. The agency expects to add 16 agents by the end of 2011, thanks to legislation passed earlier this year, he said.

The new law, Senate Bill 165, ends the regulatory program’s reliance on the state’s general revenue fund. As a result, regulators’ salaries are now paid by fees assessed from drilling companies.

Tugend said he does not anticipate any major changes will have to be made to accommodate new drilling techniques, despite the increased environmental footprint of shale wells.

“It’s all going to depend on how much activity is going on and when it starts to happen,” he said. “We are comfortable with our current laws — we have a lot of latitude in the permitting process.”

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has limited oversight over possible contamination from oil and natural gas drilling, said agency spokesman Mike Settles. Hydraulic fracturing is currently exempt from regulations under the federal Safe Water Act.

The state EPA’s role has largely been limited to working with companies that want to recycle the hydraulic fracturing wastewater through municipal treatment plants.

Warren is the first Ohio community to get preliminary approval to accept wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. In September, the EPA issued a proposed permit modification to allow the Warren Pollution Control Center to accept up to 100,000 gallons of recycled hydraulic fracturing wastewater per day.

Patriot Water Treatment, a Warren-based company, will bring in the wastewater from Marcellus Shale wells and pre-treat it to remove metals before it enters Warren’s municipal system.

The challenge with hydraulic fracturing wastewater is the high content of total-dissolved solids, or salts, Settles said.

“Our concern is that the wastewater treatment plants don’t have the ability to remove this salt,” he said. “The only solution is to dilute it with treated water.”

If this process is not controlled properly, the salts could cause water-quality problems in streams that receive treated wastewater, such as the Mahoning River, Settles said.

Results from a pilot test in Warren have shown no negative outcomes, according to a September news release from the Ohio EPA. The increase in total-dissolved solid concentration is “not expected to cause significant biological impacts to the Mahoning River or impact downstream drinking water sources,” the release said.

The permit was scheduled to take effect Dec. 1.

Warren and Patriot have appealed the 100,000-gallon-per-day limit set by the EPA, Settles said. Patriot has also approached other municipal wastewater treatment plants in the region about similar arrangements.

“We want to take a cautious approach and see how this works,” Settles said. “There is a cumulative impact here — we could get to the point where we are salting up our streams.”


Comments

1mcluvin(72 comments)posted 4 years ago

"The new law, Senate Bill 165, ends the regulatory program’s reliance on the state’s general revenue fund. As a result, regulators’ salaries are now paid by fees assessed from drilling companies. "

Ok does anyone else see a problem with a regulatory agency's salaries being paid by the industry that they are supposed to be regulating? Did we not just go through this with BP in the Gulf? It is distrubing that local agencies and municipalities have no authority to permit wells.

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2Maggie_Pentz(86 comments)posted 4 years ago

Wow...holy slant Batman. Maybe try to report both sides next time. Like, why would "fracking" be exempted from the Clean Water Act if it indeed caused no problems to groundwater aquifers? Why? Dig a little Vindy. Think for two seconds and try to ask some hard questions for once. There are more important, potentially life altering events going on in this area than the Oakhill mess.

And that stuff is not just "salts"...and even 0.5% of millions of gallons leaves plenty of room for known carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals.

So what if Ohio hasn't had an incident yet? The companies drilling here are using the same methods as those in other states that have had significant problems. What a rediculous "point" to make.

God, get someone with some scientific understanding and a tad of skepticism to report this. Please. Because right now, you guys are running a better PR campaign for "fracking" than the drilling companies themselves.

For starters, get a list...a list of the chemicals in the fracking fluid and go to the chemistry and geology departments at YSU and ask them about it.

If anyone out there would like to see real journalism at work on the matter please watch:

http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/613/inde...

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3Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/613/inde...

Commenter: josh bruntler
These comments are extremely ammusing. If the U.S. was solely populated by people like yourselves we would be living in the dark, still trying to figure out how to stay warm. God forbid all the traffic that comes by your house, that is called PEOPLE WORKING. Or the greed created by job creation, that would be called AMBITION. I know it is a lot easier for you all to pay ten guys to watch one fill in pot holes and call it job creation, but at the end of the day we need to create a products/services somewhere in this country in order to keep paying for your health care bill and socioeconomic research. There is a risk involved with anything, should we put a moratorium on automobiles and highways so we can sit back and study in order to find a way for the world to be perfect? It's not going to happen idiots, get used to it. The truth is the industry has done more research/studies in order to better their practices than you people could even imagine, because unlike yourselves they are hooked up with an industry that makes PROFITS, and dont have to call over to Congress for grant money to support their retarded theories.

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4Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years ago

The only thing about this story is that it is happening in a quote (affluent neighborhood ) everything else is BS

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5CompMan(125 comments)posted 4 years ago

Riddle me this: Someone help us understand how fracking 5,000 feet down somehow bypasses well water in the aquafer 200 feet down and does not penetrate or contaminate the water. How about it Tom Wood, George Strawn, Rhonda Reda or anyone. Vindy: Maybe Mrs Harrris from YSU Geology days can be contacted for her independant opinion. Are we just being hoodwinked ?

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6Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

It is on the same principal that your alimentary canal doesn't contaminate your arteries . The frac zone is isolated by piping and only penetrates where holes have been cut in the pipe at the level of the gas zone .

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7CompMan(125 comments)posted 4 years ago

Stan, thank you for the information. Let it be known forever that you really are living out your life as Bullwinkle J. Moose and lend your expertise as Mr. Know-It-All to all of us Vindy readers - on any subject. Me thinks I will wait until a real Rocket J. Squirrel gives an expert opinion to validate. That said, I do find you are "a funny guy", as stated by Henry Hill.

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8Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

CompMan :

Glad to hear that you are the spokesman for all of us Vindy readers . It is nice to be looked after by Benny Hill who is taking the time from his search for answers . :)

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9cambridge(3101 comments)posted 4 years ago

Any endorsement from "Stan the Man Unusual" should make everyone run the other way as fast as possible.

Maggie asked why would fracking be exempt from the clean water act? Because dick cheney had the energy companies write America's energy policy and halliburton holds the patent on hydraulic fracking.

Everyone needs to watch the video in the link Maggie provided till it sinks in. Stan, you're excused, there's no point.

Another video with a few more bits of info below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TwT_H9...

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10DJ0(72 comments)posted 4 years ago

...be careful, verwe, verwe careful. There is no free lunch.... oh... and remember, it is the petroleum industry. Its not shrimp and redfish a thousand miles away, its our drinking water.

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11RobertH(50 comments)posted 4 years ago

Interesting seeing Stan quote the Liberal News Media, since we all know everything from the Liberal Media is Poop. LMAO!

About the Bruntler quote from Stanny (because some people can' write for themselves):

1) bruntler looks like the type that gave us Love Canal, The Flaming Cuyahoga (and so on) ... and exploding faucets out west.

2) Lets say every automobile on the planet stopped running today. right now. I'm pretty sure life on the planet would not be in immanent danger. I would venture to say in a month we would all be alive.

Now if all the loose water on the planet became irreversibly contaminated life on the planet would cease in, what? A couple days? Only thing more important to life is what? Oxygen?

Point being Bruntler's argument is specious, contrary to popular belief life does not depend on cars, but life DOES depend on potable water.

3) Wanting to protect the water supply is the same as living in unheated caves. Anyone stupid enough to fall for that one?

Enough of Bruntler.

What I think is interesting is how there is a meeting in an affluent community.

Plenty of people have carried on about Liberal Tree Huggers and how there are people against progress and profit. Thats the short version.

And I believe these people have carried on this way because they live in an effluent community, I mean Affluent community. They didn't need to worry about a refinery or chemical plant popping up in their back yard because , after all they live in an affluent community. For these things there are 'lesser communities' populated by those without entitlement.

But now its going to happen to them, possibly their going to have sluice ponds for back yards, they can't let their kids run free because of the potential chemical contamination, or heavy metal exposure, and their drinking water may become polluted.

Its interesting how peoples perspectives and beliefs when an action could have negative consequences impacting them and not an abstract someone else someplace else.

They didn't support us when it was us getting the crappy end of the stick, now its your turn. Good luck.

About the chemicals being pumped into the ground? They have to get rid of industrial waste somehow.

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12Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

Ah yes, I endorse the comfort zone . . ..

Plenty of food at a reasonable cost . Without transportation which is greatly influenced by fuel prices the food does you no good if you can't get to it . I like my living quarters at 72º . Yep, this also at a reasonable fuel cost . I don't take the bus so my wheels also depend on a fuel supply . The liberals would like to drive energy costs beyond the reach of everyone but government . Then they would blame the resulting problems on others . We are where we are today with higher prices because of their past do not drill policy . Now that we are drilling out of the past they want to return . So much for their having a memory and analytical skills .

THE WORD FOR TODAY IS DRILL BABY DRILL !

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13Tigerlily(500 comments)posted 4 years ago

Oh, well if Stan says it's okay, it MUST be okay, right?

What a fool.

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14Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

Tigerlily :

Lead so we all can follow ! Shut down your gas furnace and remove it and the gas lines from your residence . Remove the electric lines and disconnect the water lines . Put in a composting toilet AKA outhouse . Solar cells on the roof and a battery for storage would be next . Apply for foreign food aid as buying US food would only entice others to continue their evil ways .

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15Freeatlast(1991 comments)posted 4 years ago

You are a @ss Stan

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16Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

Freeatlast :

"You are a @ss Stan"

Psssttttt . . . .. if I was you and I would be related . :)

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17cambridge(3101 comments)posted 4 years ago

Stan the Man Unusual.....Another option would be to use clean, renewable and cheap energy like the power from this city. It's municipally owned and run, and 80% of the energy is from clean and renewable sources.

http://www.alamedamp.com/

Oh wait, municipally owned means no multimillion dollar CEO's or billion dollar profits. Never mind, that would make it socialism right?

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18Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

Ah cambridge , this hobby venture of Alemeda still has them dependant on the grid . King Coal, Nuclear and Gas are keeping the lights on in America . If the libs succeed in putting us all in dire poverty we can always apply for foreign aid . Hydrogen will be the fuel of the future but until then hydrocarbons are carrying the load .

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19cambridge(3101 comments)posted 4 years ago

Stan the Man Unusual.....The "hobby venture of Alameda", Alameda Municipal Power has been around since 1887 and has been using clean renewable energy since the 1970's and serves a city of more than 70,000.

The power they buy from the grid is put on the grid by geothermal power plants, solar, wind turbines and land fill gas plants.

This "hobby venture" was just awarded "The Governors Environmental and Economic Leadership Award" for 2010 which is California's highest and most prestigious environmental award.

Every city should have such a "hobby" don't you think?

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20Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

cambridge :

"Every city should have such a "hobby" don't you think?"

My goal is to dam up the Mahoning , float a gambling boat and generate electric at the dam . This would be an excellent hobby don't you think ?

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21peacelover(791 comments)posted 4 years ago

Cambridge,
You get an A for Effort for trying to talk sense into some people!

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22farmforfun(15 comments)posted 4 years ago

I have a suggestion for all the people worried about water contamination. Take all the property you own and don't lease it to the greedy oil companies. But if someone else owns the property and pays the taxes. They have the right to lease and drill under the current rules set forth by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and The Ohio EPA. I agree with Stan on this one Drill Baby Drill.

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23Tigerlily(500 comments)posted 4 years ago

Mutate and develop strange cancers, baby, mutate and develop strange cancers, baby.

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24Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

Tigerlily :

"Mutate and develop strange cancers, baby, mutate and develop strange cancers, baby."

Of course it aint tha drugs,booze cigarettes or the aids culture wasting humanity .

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