By Peter H. Milliken
Ohio is well on its way to energy self-sufficiency, according to James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which regulates oil and gas drilling in the state.
Zehringer, who was here Tuesday to attend a Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber luncheon at Mill Creek MetroPark’s Fellows Riverside Gardens, said he expects oil and gas production to continue to increase this year in Ohio.
Ohio’s oil production doubled from 10.9 million barrels in 2014 to 21.9 million barrels last year.
Natural-gas production rose 110.6 percent from 452 billion cubic feet in 2014 to 953 billion cubic feet last year.
Even though the number of rigs drilling in Ohio has dropped in recent years from 50 to 16, Zehringer said the wells now in service are highly productive.
Five years ago, Ohio produced 9 percent of the oil and gas it used, he noted.
“Last year, 2015, we produced 95 percent,” he added.
Industry experts predict Ohio’s oil and gas production will exceed its use this year, he said.
“The production will go up, but the amount of wells we’re actually drilling probably will stay about the same,” he said.
Ohio has about 1,500 wells drilled, of which 1,000 are in production, he said.
Luncheon guests were greeted by 15 pickets from Frack Free Mahoning Valley, who stood in front of the D.D. and Velma Davis Education and Visitors’ Center, where the event took place to express their concerns about the environmental impact of the oil and gas industry.
Rick Simmers, ODNR’s oil and gas division chief, said standards for injection wells, which are used for disposal of oil-field waste, have become more stringent in recent years.
Permitting of new wells has become a two-phase process, with a permit required to construct the well, followed by a required permit to operate it, he said.
Where there are known faults or a history of recorded seismic activity, ODNR can require seismic monitoring before a well is allowed to operate, he added.
When the well is being drilled, the drilling company must keep logs and perform tests, including testing the mechanical integrity of each casing, calculating and measuring the pressure at the bottom of the hole, and conducting tracer tests to determine where water in the well would go.
“Any of the wells post 2012 have to have continuous monitoring on them. They have to have automatic shutdowns on them if they exceed an approved injection pressure,” he said.
North Star wells at a site on Salt Springs Road in Youngstown, which was linked to a series of local earthquakes in 2011, haven’t all been plugged because they are part on an ongoing U.S. Bankruptcy Court case, he said.
One of them has been plugged; the bankruptcy trustee has applied to plug another and will soon apply to plug a third, he said.
Oil-spill cleanup has “progressed pretty well” at the Kleese Development Associates injection well site in Vienna, where ODNR stopped injection operations last year, but Simmers said he couldn’t predict the likelihood of its reopening.
“Until they’re done with that, we won’t even consider allowing them to operate,” he said of the cleanup.
John Williams of Youngstown, one of the Frack Free pickets, who carried a sign saying “Keep Niles Safe,” said he wants Simmers to plug and completely close the American Water Management well in Weathersfield, where ODNR stopped injection operations in 2014 because of small earthquakes.
“It’s only 2.8 miles from Meander [Reservoir] dam. If we have a big earthquake there, and it takes out the dam, that will basically flush a lot of people on the south side of Niles down the Ohio River,” into which Meander Creek and Mahoning River waters eventually flow, Williams said.