Gold Mine at Our Feet
Ohio could be sitting atop a gold mine! Ohio sits on top of both Marcellus and Utica shale deposits which harbor enough natural gas to last us for many years to come. It is literally a gold mine at our feet. It is estimated that perhaps trillions of cubic feet of gas and billions of barrels of oil are buried under Ohio’s
Many stand to gain a lot of money from mining Ohio’s natural gas deposits. Energy companies are reportedly paying landowners $1500 per acre plus royalties for the rights to drill on their property. The state of Ohio also hopes to make up huge deficits from the money they stand to gain from leasing drilling rights to
energy companies to drill on state-owned lands in the state parks. Governor
Kasich has said this is a huge windfall for the state.
Several Ohio cities were hoping for a financial windfall for treating the brine from natural
gas wells but the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday, May
17, that cities won’t be able to treat the brine which is then dumped into
streams after treatment. The agency says it is concerned that the brine will
pose a pollution risk. The Ohio EPA’s recommended form of disposal is the use
of injection wells thousands of feet underground.
Steubenville, East Liverpool, and Warren, Ohio hoped to make money from the energy companies by treating the brine; but Warren is the only city currently treating brine for a
Lisbon-based company. The treated brine is then dumped into the Mahoning River;
however, the city’s treatment process does not remove salt from the wastewater.
The Ohio EPA announced it will not renew Warren’s permit to treat such brine
which expires in January.
Robert Disch, East Liverpool’s utility director, estimates his city could make at least
$168,000 a year. Chuck Murphy, Steubenville’s wastewater superintendent, said
his city could make as much as $300,000 a year. Tom Angelo, director of
Warren’s water-pollution-control plant, had hoped to charge as much as $150,000
a year to take the brine.
In eastern Ohio, energy companies are paying landowners for the right to drill into the
Marcellus and the thicker, more deeply buried Utica shale deposits. Companies
have so far drilled 59 Marcellus wells and an additional 10 into the Utica.
Hundreds more could be drilled, especially if Utica wells produce large amounts
of gas, and possibly oil.
Even though the State of Ohio hopes to lease land to energy companies, this process could
be bogged down for some time until it is determined who actually owns the
mineral rights to the land. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants to
open state parks for drilling. Officials say that proceeds from leases and
royalty payments would help reduce a $560 million maintenance backlog in state
Also, a bill was introduced in the House on Wednesday, May 18, by Rep. Dave Hall,
R-Killbuck, chairman of the House’s Agriculture and Natural Resources
Committee, which states that land owned by universities or that the state
bought with legal agreements that restrict how it can be used, would be
unavailable for drilling. “We wanted to show where you could drill and where
you could not,” said Hall, who sponsored the bill. The bill also creates a
five-member board to review all drilling applications and make a decision
within 15 days.
Tom Steward, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, which represents drillers, said his group supports the bill. He stated, “It became obvious that there were
lands bought with federal encumbrances where the state couldn’t ‘lose control’
of the properties.”
Environmental advocates remain opposed to drilling in any form. Jack Shaner, a lobbyist with the Ohio Environmental Council, said drilling breaks an implied promise that
parks won’t be developed or polluted. “I don’t care how much lipstick you
put on this pig, it’s still a pig,” Shaner said. According to the bill, state university
officials would be able to OK drilling on their land.
The EPA’s Role
One would think that the EPA is keeping a close eye on the natural gas industry but they
were essentially excluded by the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The
act also includes a provision that the energy companies do not have to reveal
what chemicals are used in the fracking process. The Policy Act excludes HF
fluids, except for diesel fuel, related to energy production from regulation
under the UIC (underground injection control) program. However, states may
choose to regulate HF, if they wish.
I am not an expert in wastewater treatment, but during my years as editor for a quarterly
magazine for the Ohio Water Pollution Control Association (OWPCA), I learned
that before a treatment facility can treat incoming water it must first know
what chemicals are in the water. If, by law, companies don’t have to reveal the
makeup of the chemical mixture how can the wastewater be properly treated? If the
wastewater is not properly treated, then our streams and drinking water become
Along with the expansion of HF there has been increasing concerns about its potential
impact on drinking water resources, public health, and environmental impacts in
the vicinity of these facilities. Therefore, the EPA has begun a study to
understand the relationship between HF and drinking water resources.
This news should be encouraging but, in typical governmental fashion, the study will take
some time to complete. It was begun in 2010 and is not scheduled to be
completed until 2014. A series of community hearings were held last year and the
results of those hearings will be sent to the Science Advisory Board (SAB)
where the draft will then be revised in response to the SABs comments. Initial
results are expected by the end of 2012 with a goal of a full report in 2014.
In connection with the study, the EPA sent letters to 9 companies currently
involved in HF or fracking to gain information regarding the chemicals used in
the process and the impact of the chemicals on human health and the
environment, standard operating procedures at the HF sites, and the locations
of sites where fracturing has been conducted. The nine leading national and
regional HF service providers are: BJ Services, Complete Production Services, Halliburton, Key Energy Services, Patterson-UTI, RPC, Inc., Schlumberger, Superior Well Services, and Weatherford. All companies but Halliburton (who developed the fracking process and was previously run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president) responded to the EPA request in a timely manner. Halliburton responded only after being
subpoenaed to do so.
Flowback is regulated not by the EPA but by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program which requires flowback to be treated prior to discharge into surface
water or underground injection prior to discharge. Underground injection is
regulated by EPA or a state with primary UIC (underground injection control)
enforcement authority. However, again, if the chemicals used in the process are
unknown, then proper treatment of the water is impossible.
It is certainly discouraging to think the gas drilling companies are running the
show. What were our fine representatives in Washington thinking when they
passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 or what is commonly known as the
Bush/Cheney Bill? The fact that two oil men were running the country tells us everything.
I hate to think what horrors are ahead of us with very few regulations placed
on the industry. Why don’t they want us to know what chemicals are being used? What
are they hiding?
We may have a gold mine at our feet but what will it cost us to tap into this mine? Are we
opening Pandora’s Box?