Monday, September 26, 2011
'Fracking' future - I want my life back!
(Source: The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio)By Spencer Hunt, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
Sept. 25--CARROLLTON, Ohio --Natural-gas drilling and coal mining are nothing new in Carroll County
The eastern Ohio area is dotted with old wells and abandoned mines.
But the humongous drilling rig in a farm field east of Carrollton represents something new, something that promises to change Ohio forever.
A crew working for Chesapeake Energy drilled down more than a mile in late May before the drill bit turned 90 degrees. It then chewed a 4,000-foot-long horizontal shaft through a dense layer of flaky black rock that geologists call Utica shale.
If all goes as planned, a set of high-pressure pumps will replace the rig and eventually shoot millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals down the well.
The premise is that the mixture will shatter the shale and send trapped natural gas, oil, propane and butane streaming to the surface.
This process is called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," and that makes this 175-foot-tall rig more than just an expensive drill.
It's also a lightning rod.
Supporters of shale drilling, including Gov. John Kasich, see the beginning of an expanding oil-and-gas industry that could create thousands of Ohio jobs, all focused on producing a cheap, " clean" energy supply that could last for generations.
"If the discovery of Utica shale and this natural gas can lift people and lift families and provide jobs, that in and of itself is worth it," Kasich said. "We have to manage it right. "
But critics say this type of drilling is an environmental nightmare that can poison the soil, water and air.
They say the chemicals used in fracturing, and the heavy metals in wastewater, are a threat to groundwater and streams.
And they point to spills, contaminated drinking-water wells and tales of sickened landowners in Pennsylvania, where shale drilling began in 2005, as evidence of what could happen in Ohio.
"Time will tell if this will be a boom or a bust, but we need to make sure our air, land and water don't crater out getting there," said Jack Shaner, a lobbyist for the Ohio Environmental Council.
State geologists say that if energy companies can extract just 5 percent of the resources in the Utica shale, they would recover 15.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 5.5 billion barrels of butane, propane and crude oil.
That's enough natural gas to fuel Ohio's needs for 21 years.
"It's such a game-changer," said Larry Wickstrom, director of the Ohio Geological Survey.
Since late 2009, 18 wells have been drilled or are being drilled into the Utica shale in Ohio. Eight wells have been drilled into the Marcellus shale, another gas-bearing rock layer that stretches from Ohio to New York.
How much gas and oil the wells produce won't be publicly available until March 31, when companies must file reports with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
"We've applied for 10 permits for Utica wells," said Ron Whitmire, spokesman for Houston-based EnerVest. "What happens next will depend on what those 10 wells show."
The state has issued permits to eight companies for a total of 52 vertical test wells and horizontal wells in the Utica shale that have yet to be drilled.
In Pennsylvania, more than 3,800 gas wells have been drilled into the Marcellus shale since 2005. The wells produced 79 billion cubic feet of gas in 2009, enough to supply the state of Montana for a year.
A July report by economists at Penn State University estimates that shale-gas drilling and production were worth $11.2 billion to the state economy last year.
The report also says the industry helped support 140,000 jobs, with the biggest effects in construction, mining and retail. Pennsylvania officials say the drilling boom has been great for the economy.
"There's an awful lot of opportunities for growth that we're seeing and that we're trying to seize upon," said Patrick Henderson, Gov. Tom Corbett's energy adviser.
An industry report released last week predicted that growth in Ohio's oil and natural-gas production could lead to 200,000 new jobs and $14 billion in investments in the next four years.
Such estimates have been the subject of intense debate, with critics saying they are grossly exaggerated.
But drilling in Pennsylvania has produced a number of environmental problems, violations, fines and complaints as well.
One problem is "brine," the water that comes back up with the natural gas. It is tainted with salt, hazardous metals and chemicals used to fracture the shale.
Fracking has been used for decades to help crack sandstone and other oil- and gas-bearing rock. But horizontal wells use considerably more fluid. In a week, an energy company injects an average of 5 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals into a single well. About 15 percent of the water initially comes back up, and the wells continue to discharge smaller amounts for years.
The family's champion barrel horse and prized boxer both died in 2010. She said the horse died after losing more than 100 pounds, and tests showed that the boxer had been poisoned by ethylene glycol.