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Drilling moves toward suburbia in Mahoning Valley

Published: Sun, October 14, 2012 @ 12:09 a.m.

By Burton Speakman | bspeakman@vindy.com


Horizontal drilling is moving toward the suburbs, but you’re not likely to see a drilling rig in the middle of your neighborhood.

Current horizontal-drilling technology makes it impossi- ble for a well site to be placed in a suburban neighborhood, said Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.

One company is attracting attention, however, for specifically leasing urban Mahoning County land, Stewart said.

“What they’re trying to do is drill horizontally for 6,000 to 8,000 feet,” he said. “They’ll have five to six wells on one [drilling] pad, and it will look like a comb. They’re going to need a lot of space to make that happen.”

Although Stewart did not name the company, Houston-based Hilcorp has been buying leases for small properties in Campbell, Struthers, Lowellville, Poland Township and Springfield Township.

Drilling near neighborhoods has occurred in the Mahoning Valley’s past. Vertical Clinton formation wells dot many landscapes.

The industry has drilled in Canfield for decades with wells as close as 100 feet to a house.

Some practices drillers use in sparsely populated Western and rural areas cannot be done in suburbs, said Joseph A. Stanislaw, founder of the advisory firm The JAStanislaw Group LLC and an oil and gas expert.

Some issues with drilling will arise as they get closer to suburbs. Companies will do what they can to shield the sites from view and use sound dampening measures to protect neighbors, Stanislaw said.

Oil and gas drilling is a 24/7 business, he said.

“Once they start drilling, they’re not going to stop because it gets dark out,” Stanislaw said.

Noise will be caused from surface equipment and from trucks that continually bring supplies to the site and remove waste products, Stanislaw said.

“The truck traffic is going to be more than they’re used to,” he said.

Construction lighting at the sites will allow drilling to continue all night. Stanislaw compared the brightness to lighting at a high school football field, but the lights at sites should be closer to the ground.

“The lights now can be directed down instead of out, so they won’t bother neighbors,” he said.

Susie Beiersdorfer, a Mahoning Valley anti-fracking activist, said additional health risks arise with drilling in populated areas. She is not convinced that oil and gas companies can do anything to lessen risks and annoyances that come along with drilling.

“Drilling is a heavy industrial process, which will lead to increased truck traffic, noise and light pollution and, more importantly, increased air pollution from trucks and diesel engines,” she said.

Those with complaints about noise or light pollution from a drill site can complain to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, ODNR spokeswoman.

“We may not come out in the middle of the night, but we’ll respond as quickly as possible,” she said.

ODNR has inspectors who work varied shifts so that someone is on duty 24 hours a day, Hetzel-Evans said. ODNR has worked with producers to find ways to mitigate the sound from drilling operations in urban areas.

ODNR has received few complaints about night lighting at sites, she said.

“Despite the long established record of the Ohio oil and gas industry, there is always room for improvement. I know that the environmental and social track record is solid in light of the vast amount of activity experienced in this state,” Stewart said.

“No matter where a well is drilled there are risks associated with creating a hole in the ground and exposing a reservoir to production. That is why Ohio relies on regulation by experts.”

Laws on urban drilling were set in Senate Bill 165 in 2010. It requires a site-specific inspection before a permit can be issued, he said. It also requires that anyone who lives within 500 feet of a proposed drilling site receive notice before operations start.

The goal was to be also to “maximize” local authority input into the permit process, Stewart said.

“Good public policy and, ultimately, the fate of the Ohio industry are intrinsically tied to public faith and confidence in the Ohio oil and gas regulatory program,” he said.

Local offices for the ODNR and contact information can be found online at http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/facilities/tabid/10760/Default.

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