State’s commitment to protect Meander will be put to the test as oil and gas drilling expands

Meander Reservoir is the source of drinking water for more than 200,000 Mahoning Valley residents, which explains why it has become a point of contention as the region braces for the expected oil and gas boom. The Utica shale formation has attracted major national and international energy companies that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to secure mineral rights leases in anticipation of drilling.

The promise of a new economic era that could well match the decades when steel was king has the public and private sectors working as one.

But, it has also given rise to concerns about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing — fracking — of the shale formation to tap the oil and gas reserves.

That has led to Meander Reservoir — and an assurance from the chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, Richard Simmers.

In a letter to Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, who sought the vigilance of ODNR “to protect the Meander Reservoir from contamination,” Simmers wrote that his agency takes seriously “our obligation to protect groundwater from contamination.”

State statute

He referred to the state statute requiring that “all underground sources of drinking water must be isolated and protected from potential contamination when drilling-oil, gas and brine wells in the state.”

The chief noted that during drilling steel casings are inserted to the well bore.

“The casing makes sure that the fluid to be pumped through the well, in addition to the oil and gas collected, remains isolated from groundwater and doesn’t enter the water supply,” Simmers wrote.

Mayor Sammarone intends to ensure that the state lives up to its commitments and responsibilities to protect the health and safety of Valley residents as the oil and gas exploration takes off.

Other officeholders should do likewise.

In February, Mahoning County commissioners agreed to sell county water to CNX Gas Co. for a well drilling site off Blott Road in Jackson Township. The drilling site is located in the Meander Reservoir watershed. Indeed, the water comes from the reservoir and is sold to the county by the city of Youngstown, which, along with the city of Niles, are the member cities of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District.

The MVSD operates the water treatment facility in Mineral Ridge and supplies drinking water to Youngstown, Niles and McDonald village.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued a permit for CNX to drill on Blott Road.

Thus, the concerns expressed by anti-fracking groups about the environmental threats and the dangers to the water table.

Thirteen years ago, the MVSD board of directors was presented with a proposal to place 25 natural gas wells on the district’s property. Ohio Valley Energy in Austintown said the wells could earn the district $4.6 million in royalties, free gas and reduced gas prices during the first six years of operation.

The board decided that the wells posed a risk to the reservoir.

However, during the discussion a representative of Ohio Valley Energy contended that there were several wells harvesting natural gas on MVSD property through a method known as directional drilling. The wells were placed on adjacent property.

The state should examine the wells to determine if they meet the standards that ODNR’s chief, Simmers, referred to in his letter to Mayor Sammarone.

Fishing on Lake Erie

In July 2012, Gov. John Kasich was fishing on Lake Erie and signed an executive order prohibiting the drilling for oil and gas, both on or under the lake.

“I get a chance to be the steward, and that day will come and go, as well, but while I’m here, the lake is precious. We can’t mess around with this,” Kasich told the Toledo Blade.

We urge the governor to come to the Mahoning Valley and make the same unequivocal statement about Meander Reservoir, a source of drinking water for 200,000-plus.

Kasich should get a copy of the letter Mayor Sammarone wrote to ODNR’s Simmers, and pay special attention to this paragraph:

“While I do not doubt your commitment to preserving natural resources, we in Youngstown have experienced two incidents caused by improper activity within the last year: (1) a series of earthquakes and (2) illegal dumping of a large volume of contaminants into the Mahoning River.”

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.