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A look back at hydraulic fracturing in the Valley in 2012


Published: Sat, December 1, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Burton Speakman

bspeakman@shalesheet.com

YOUNGSTOWN

IT’S BEEN A HECTIC YEAR FOR THE Mahoning Valley with more drilling and new companies moving in to support the oil and gas industry.

Arguments about the safety record of fracking and its related activities have continued unabated. Predictions are that the industry will continue to expand in the next few years.

Therefore, as the Christmas season approaches, it’s a good time to look at the industry and its development in the area as we try to determine who has been naughty and who has been nice.

NAUGHTY

Out-of-state protesters who come to the Mahoning Valley with the sole purpose of making news while getting themselves arrested. They’ve added nothing to the local discussion about the risks of hydraulic fracturing or its economic benefits.

NICE

The efforts of other local protesters such as FrackFree Mahoning Valley, who host educational events for people to learn about the industry that are mostly hysteria-free and often relatively nonpartisan. The group also protests but has done so respectfully and normally without causing police involvement.

NAUGHTY

The Ohio General Assembly for allowing the trade-secrets provision to become part of the state’s law regarding fracking fluid. Many argue the public has a right to know what’s in the fluid and the public good should outweigh industry concerns about losing a competitive advantage. The site http://fracfocus.org/ lists chemicals used by the industry, but it is of little service to those who reside near a well who have no idea which of the hundreds of chemicals listed are being used near them.

NICE

The Rational Middle for producing a documentary series that is more balanced than most videos available either for or against oil and gas development. The series can be viewed online at www.rationalmiddle.com/?gclid=CPLyp7SsyrMCFao7MgodNngAww.

NAUGHTY

Halcon for allowing leases to expire with hundreds of property owners in Trumbull County without informing property owners of the decision. Halcon could have released these rights owners early from the lease agreement so they could have made a decision about trying to sign an agreement with another company. The property owners also deserved to know early on that they would not receive a lease-signing bonus.

NICE

Halcon and its lease-purchasing agent, Shale Investment Fund, for having events to focus on what the companies plan for the area and being public about the lease signing. The work of these two companies in some ways took the mystery out of the process for those who came after them.

NAUGHTY

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has to show up on the naughty list for not having knowledge of the fault system in Mahoning Valley and allowing the permit used by D&L Energy for an injection well on Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown that the agency later determined was most likely the cause of multiple earthquakes in the Youngstown area. ODNR compounded the problem by continuing to allow operations at the Ohio Works Drive facility despite a growing amount of evidence that the injection well likely was the cause of the quakes. The agency also was unable to locate maps that showed a fault line in the area, despite staffs at The Vindicator and Youngstown State University finding these maps.

NICE

The actions of the office of Gov. John Kasich and ODNR, once the state finally did respond to the Youngstown earthquakes. Even environmental groups have commended Kasich for the resulting injection-well moratorium statewide, which has since been lifted, and the local moratorium on injection wells within a 7-mile radius around the Ohio Works Drive site that remains in effect. The state now has myriad regulations regarding injection wells including gauges that measure injection pressure. There also is a ban on injections into the Precambrian rock levels.

NAUGHTY

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency falls onto this list because of its part in the ongoing controversy between ODNR and Patriot Water. The OEPA granted the initial permit to Patriot, with some written approval from a previous ODNR administration, that has led to one of the longest-running battles between a business and state agency in Ohio.

NICE

BP’s donation of $50,000 to equip Trumbull County teachers with a Web-based science, technology, engineering and math-education (STEM) program. The donation will help students in the county develop skills in science and math that could help make local students more employable in the changing economy. Although it is important to remember with the recent $4.5 billion settlement for the company over the Gulf oil spill, any goodwill can dissipate quickly with one disaster.

NAUGHTY

Groups that want to place drilling rigs on state park lands. With modern technology, it is possible to gain access to minerals under parks without damaging their surface. There are few places left for people to walk and enjoy nature. The parks systems were created to be natural spaces.

NICE

Firefighter training programs such as the one run by the Ohio Oil and Gas Education Association. With increased oil and gas exploration occurring, the chances of local firefighters being called to an oil and gas scene are increased. It’s important that firefighters understand what they see at a drilling site and know how to react.

NAUGHTY

Authors of papers about fracking who do not list if they receive income from the oil and gas industry. Despite the unfettered belief among most academics that being a consultant for the industry, and receiving big payments from it, will not influence research findings, the public still has the right to know. The same goes for research funded by environmental groups, by the way.

NICE

State legislators who are attempting to find ways to regulate a burgeoning industry. Two years ago there were probably few, if any, state legislators who knew the difference between fracking and an injection well. Now most have educated themselves about the process. The key going forward is balancing regulation that spurs economic growth while ensuring high safety standards.

NAUGHTY

Critics of fracking who repeat unproven claims, such as “Fracking causes cancer,” to scare others about the process. Opponents of fracking often state that rates of breast cancer have risen in the Barnett Shale and nowhere else in the area. But researchers haven’t seen a spike in breast-cancer rates in the area, said Simon Craddock Lee, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

NICE

The efforts of a company like Chesapeake, which allowed former Vindicator reporter Karl Henkel to come out to a well site and watch the process. The result of this effort was to provide the public answers about the drilling process.

NAUGHTY

The oil and gas industry’s use of the phrase “fracking has never caused groundwater contamination.” The statement is technically true, but also disingenuous. A more accurate phrase: “The process of fracking hasn’t caused contamination, but oil and gas exploration as a whole has resulted in groundwater contamination through faulty casings for hydraulically fractured wells.”

NICE

The new jobs that have been created due to Utica Shale exploration. The Mahoning Valley has needed an influx of jobs for decades, and natural gas and oil development has started to generate some new jobs with companies such as V&M Star, Valerus, Exterran and others.

NAUGHTY

Despite not breaking any laws or going beyond the scope of the permit it received from ODNR, D&L Energy must go on the list as the company that ran the well that resulted in earthquakes in Youngstown. The company has continued to deny that its well was the cause, but there have been no further earthquakes since it was shut down.

NICE

Water-recycling efforts that are being undertaken by companies to reduce the millions of gallons of water that are used in each fracked well. Although Ohio and the Mahoning Valley is water rich, it is important to reduce any use of a natural resource.

Associated Press reports contributed to

this story.


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