Oil and gas industry, government must learn from mistakes
The oil-production landscape has changed in North America over the past five years.
Horizontal shale drilling has increased the amount of petroleum product being transported throughout the continent. In the past, this type of activity was mostly concentrated in Texas, Louisiana and major shipping ports.
As the continental energy model changes, it is imperative for industry and government to learn quickly from mistakes and develop strategies that provide safety in an economically viable way for populations adjacent to new energy hot spots.
The Mahoning Valley is at the beginning of its shale oil boom. Southern Trumbull and northern Mahoning counties are showing signs of becoming significant midstream players with the Utica Shale play.
Transportation logistics related to shale exploration are a topic that most local politicians and government officials know little about. How we do this could be financially beneficial, or not, to the citizens of this area, depending on the logistics infrastructure that our state and local zoning laws permit. It takes only one major accident to wipe government coffers clean of financial gains received by industry activity.
In light of the West Virginia chemical spill Jan. 12, coupled with four North American oil-train derailments resulting in explosive loss of life and property, the strategy of petroleum product logistics is becoming a topic of North American debate. These events are proof that chemical and mineral accidents can, and do, occur and should be factored into the zoning plans of public and residential infrastructure.
Consider the day that someone in West Virginia local or state government permitted a 40,000-gallon tank of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol in the direct water shed of the Elk River. The Elk River supplies drinking water for nine surrounding counties and more than 300,000 residents and businesses.
That decision placed the entire region only one faulty action or mechanical failure away from a state of emergency costing untold amounts of money and personal injury. The entire area is effectively shut down for business without a source of clean, potable water.
The fact that I spent four years as chairman of Girard City Council’s Health and Safety Committee often causes me to analyze new business developments with respect to their impact on public safety. It’s a personal exercise in contingency planning.
The plans for development of a midstream storage and loading center at the Ohio Commerce Center in Lords-town have caused me to jump into exercise mode. Initially, this supply-management center will be harmless enough by importing and storing silica sand for use in the hydraulic fracturing process.
But just recently, a $2 million Ohio Jobs Ready grant was used to begin construction of a loop track that will eventually be able to load and unload 100 or more cars at a time. This loading station also will be used to store then load Utica Shale oil so that it may be transported to oil refineries elsewhere on the continent.
Other chemical products used in the fracking process also will be stored there.
Communities located along rail lines leading to and from the Ohio Commerce Center should be revisiting their zoning ordinances and emergency plans with respect to impending oil shipments within their borders.
Possibly more important, because of the center’s location in the Meander Reservoir, is a contingency plan in case of a chemical or oil spill occurring on site. The reservoir provides water to more than 220,000 customers in Niles, Youngstown, Girard, McDonald, Mineral Ridge, Liberty Township, Weathersfield Township and beyond.
Any contamination of this reservoir would result in a state of emergency I would not want to see.