Welcome to the Vindy.com Fracking page, the Mahoning Valley's home for the latest news and information about the natural oil and gas drilling industry.
By Ashley Luthern
Zonda Haase's family has lived on 75 acres of field and woods in Springfield Township for more than 100 years.
A winding lane that’s tricky to navigate in snow and slush leads from Felger Road to the two-story house that her grandfather completed by hand in 1900 after felling timber from his property.
In front of the house, two lines of parallel stakes with strips now flutter in the breeze and mark where 2,300 feet of pipeline will transport natural gas.
The oil-and-gas industry has arrived in eastern Mahoning County, for better or worse, depending on who’s talking.
But nearly everyone agrees life won’t be the same.
The pipeline on Haase’s property is part of the Hickory Bend Pipeline System, 50 miles of 20- to 24-inch wet-gas gathering lines that are being installed in Northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Hilcorp and NiSource created a partnership called Pennant Midstream LLC to construct the pipeline and a cryogenic gas-processing plant, representing an estimated $300 million investment. Cryogenic plants lower the temperature of natural gas to about minus 120 degrees Fahrenheit to separate lighter hydrocarbons, such as ethane.
Although the company has not said publicly where either the pipeline or cryogenic plant will go, officials and residents say they expect it to travel from a horizontal drilling well in Poland Township southwest past Metz Road to about 100 acres near the intersection of Middletown and State Line roads, the proposed location for the cryogenic plant.
A NiSource spokeswoman said she could only confirm the cryogenic plant would be in Mahoning County.
The well off Cowden Road, part of the Carbon Limestone Landfill operated by Republic Services in Poland Township, already is under construction with a rig visible from U.S. Route 224 and the township park. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued a horizontal drilling permit to Hilcorp Energy Corp. in November for the site.
Springfield Township Trustee Robert Orr, who met with NiSource representatives and Mahoning County engineers last week, said the pipeline is expected to tie into existing transmission lines in Springfield, which consist of four Tennessee Gas and two Dominion East Ohio lines.
Orr said the plant will have two entrances on State Line Road and that the company will have a road-use maintenance agreement that outlines a prescribed route for heavy trucks, keeping them predominately on state roads. He added that agreements between Mahoning County and the company to maintain roads also are planned.
With the development, “the area could really grow. We’re hoping Springfield helps the Valley in the road to recovery,” Orr said.
A long history
Inside a thick scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings, family portraits and wedding announcements are black-and-white photographs of oil drillers on the Haase farmland.
Zonda Haase, 66, pulls out several more photos taken in 1910 by her grandfather, Charles Holzworth, who lived on the farm with his wife, Minnie (Beede) Holzworth, and extended family.
“There were 11 oil wells on the property,” Haase said. “He had to have sold the oil but unfortunately we don’t have a lot of information about that.”
The family made its living off the land, growing corn, wheat and oats, and raising cows and chickens to sell eggs, milk and butter.
“They farmed to keep the buildings and pay the taxes,” Haase said.
It wasn’t glamorous, but it was sustainable. The family had a large vegetable garden, butchered its own meat and canned preserves.
Haase’s mother Bessie Louise Holzworth sold milk and butter — the wooden butter molds with the Holzworth seal are proudly displayed in the house — and kept the family financial books. She eventually went to Youngstown College, becoming a professional bookkeeper, and married Kurt Haase in the 1940s. Haase and her brother Kim grew up on the farm.
Haase’s grandfather stopped farming the fields in the early 1950s and died soon after. Since then, the fields have been rented to local farmers. The large family house was rented as apartments from the 1950s to the 1970s until Haase, a licensed professional counselor, returned in 1976 after living in Youngstown for a time following her college graduation.
The property’s mineral rights were first leased to a company in the 1970s, Haase said.
“Companies would come around, and that was it. The most recent company to have our lease is Chesapeake Energy. ... We knew that there was oil and gas here because of history, and it was only a matter of time when American companies would start getting actively involved in the drilling,” she said.
Haase and her brother jointly own the land and agreed to the mineral-rights lease and a separate pipeline agreement with Pennant.
Haase, a Springfield school board member, spoke highly of Pennant, saying the company has been very clear with her. The pipeline will be at least 4 feet deep, per regulations required for farmland to allow for tilling. The company waited until after the harvest to mark the property, and digging should start very soon, she said.
“I believe what we have under our ground belongs to the American people, and our responsibly is to see the American people are cared for with these resources,” she said.
Haase, like many in the area, has well water. She has never had a problem with her water and said she doesn’t anticipate one, despite warnings from environmental groups.
The land will be farmed this year as usual, with fields of corn and soybeans.
“We’re looking forward to a bountiful year for not only our community families, but for America. I feel honored that we can be a part of this. It’s not just about the money, this is what America should be: sharing our resources,” she said.
A changing landscape
Tina Jurich woke up last week at her home, not far the Haase property, and admired the pink sky and glistening snow.
“Why do people live out here? They want quiet and space,” she said.
Jurich, who lives on State Line Road, is convinced that will change as the oil-and- natural gas industry moves in, trucking activity increases and drilling, a 24/7 activity, gets under way. The memory of last month’s massive explosion of a NiSource/Columbia natural gas pipeline in West Virginia is still fresh in her mind.
Orr said he is concerned about that, too. When he shared that with company representatives, he was told the lines will have remote shutoff to turn off the gas at any point.
“We already have gas lines here, and we’ve never had any problems, knock on wood,” Orr said. “... We’re getting some good assurances. NiSource is a Fortune 500 company; it’s not a fly-by-night outfit.”
But Jurich also worries about health effects.
“My concern is, if it’s so safe, why carve out exemptions?” she said.
Injection wells used to dispose of fracking fluid, for example, were exempt from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, which is most commonly referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole.”
Under the federal Clean Air Act, fracking wells are partly protected against air contamination claims, but a claim cannot cite multiple wells as a single source of contamination. Each claim must be linked to a particular well.
Jurich is one of many Valley activists who supports a community bill of rights to increase protection for air, water and health, and she is helping circulate a petition to an put an issue on the May ballot to ban fracking in Youngstown.
Although vertical Clinton formation wells from decades ago can be seen in Valley neighborhoods, it’s relatively recent that horizontal drilling began its move toward the suburbs. Current horizontal drilling technology makes it impossible for a well site to be placed in many residential neighborhoods because of a lack of space, experts have said.
But having a fracking well within a mile of her home is close enough to make Andrea Moore nervous. Moore moved to 2.5 acres on Arrel Road in Poland Township two years ago from busy North Lima Road.
“It’s about the only place that’s still somewhat rural in Poland,” she said.
Moore fears groundwater contamination, air pollution and other potential hazards that have been associated horizontal drilling.
“I’m worried a lot about health risks with my two small children. I’m worried about water contamination. I started buying bottled water to drink, then started washing vegetables with it, cooking with it and even boiling it. It’s getting ridiculous,” she said.
Her answer to landmen who want her to lease mineral rights or survey or conduct seismic testing has been consistent: no. Still, she’s seen markers on her property that she hasn’t put up and believes they are from companies ignoring her wishes.
Under Ohio law, a producing company can apply for a mandatory pooling order for a holdout landowner to meet state spacing regulations. If approved, mandatory pooling includes that property in the unit and that landowner receives a proportionate share of the landowner royalty as though the landowner had leased — but there is no lease agreement between the two, according to ODNR.
“I talk about moving, but I don’t know how. We have 28 years left on our mortgage and I don’t even know if it will sell,” Moore said.
“...Then there’s a question of where do you go? It’s devastating, and I have a feeling of helplessness.”
Poland Township Administrator Jim Scharville said it is difficult if a resident is the only holdout on signing a lease. Moore said she is the only one on her street not to have signed.
“There wouldn’t be one well if no one signed a lease, but once you get one neighbor to sign, everyone signs. It has to be the entire community to say no,” Scharville said.
Orr said the development will have a ripple effect and he already has heard from at least one local paving business getting work because of it.
“For me personally, I’m optimistic but I’m cautious. We can only make the calls to make sure things are happening the way [companies] said. We’re kind of open to anything because Springfield for decades has had no zoning. It has no regulatory authority [for drilling]. Everyone’s doing their own thing out here, and we just encourage people to be good neighbors,” Orr said.
Scharville said like any industry, the shale development brings good and bad, and it can force people to make hard choices.
“Everyone wants jobs and prosperity, and no one wants to pay $5 a gallon (for gas), but everyone wants something for free. There are no free lunches in America,” said Scharville.
Poland Trustees Mark Naples, Robert J. Lidle Jr. and Eric Ungaro are beginning to hear from residents as shale activity picks up in earnest.
“I’d like some local control given back,” Naples said. “We can take you to court with our zoning [rules], but we can’t do anything about this.”
ODNR can permit exploration and injection wells without local consent, and the wells are regulated by the state.
“We are a bedroom community, and I don’t want to lose that,” Naples said.
The well on landfill property is probably a better location for drilling than most in Poland, trustees agreed, because it is in a remote area and will be accessed using primarily private roads already built to handle heavy trucking. The Mahoning County District Board of Health already also has a well-water testing program in place for residences up to 1 mile from the 770-acre Carbon Limestone Landfill.
Lidle said many people have invested in high-value homes in Poland, and it’s unclear what, if any, effect the oil-and-gas activity will have on property valuations.
“People moved out of the city of Youngstown to come to Poland and Canfield because the [steel] mills weren’t there. There wasn’t the soot. Now, [industry] is coming right to their backyards,” Lidle said.
His fellow trustee, Ungaro, agreed that change is fast approaching.
“We’ll never be the same,” Ungaro said.