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Ohio Drilling Is ‘Godsend’

Positives and problems discussed at Bridgeport forum

January 18, 2012
By CASEY JUNKINS - Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

BRIDGEPORT - By 2015, industry officials believe oil and natural gas producers will spend $34 billion for exploration and development across Ohio.

"I think this is going to be a godsend for this part of the state," said Terry Fleming, executive director of the Ohio Petroleum Council, during the Tuesday oil and gas forum at Bridgeport High School. "No one spends this kind of money unless they expect a return."

The Ohio Energy Resource Alliance and We The People Ohio Valley sponsored the session.

Article Photos

Photo by Casey Junkins
Terry Fleming, executive director of the Ohio Petroleum Council, left, and Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, listen during a Tuesday forum at Bridgeport High School.

Referring to a report by the Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program, Shawn Bennett, field director for Energy In Depth-Ohio, said the industry would likely create thousands of jobs in Belmont, Jefferson, Monroe and Harrison counties. The report concludes that gas and oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chesapeake Energy will spend about $34 billion in exploration and development, midstream, royalty and lease expenditures in Ohio by 2015.

"I am very tired of legislators in Cincinnati and Cleveland calling for five-year moratoriums" on fracking, Fleming said. "A lot of people I see around the state scream, they yell, they wave signs - they don't have the facts."

Although many of the 100 residents and local leaders attending the forum focused on the potential positives of natural gas development, some expressed concerns about fracking and injection wells. Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, joined Fleming and Bennett at the forum.

After a 4.0 magnitude earthquake near a Youngstown injection well, Gov. John Kasich ordered a moratorium on wastewater injection wells within a 5-mile radius of the well as the state investigates the earthquake.

Noting that the Bridgeport school sits near the Kirkwood Heights injection well, Stewart said he understood the concern about possible earthquakes. He said the injections into the Youngstown well may have helped trigger some seismic activity, but this activity was probably close to happening on its own near that particular well.

"It is not unimaginable that a Class II injection well could cause some form of" seismic activity, he said. "The guy who drilled the (Youngstown) well is probably going to lose a $4 million investment. But we cannot have houses shaking."

Stewart estimated Ohio's share of the Utica Shale may contain as many as 5.5 billion barrels of oil, in addition to a bounty of methane natural gas, ethane, propane, butane and pentane. He also said the farther west one explores the Utica Shale, the more likely one is to find crude oil.

In response to a question from the crowd about reports of possible water contamination from fracking in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Stewart said, "It is not fracking" causing these problems.

"It's well construction," he said in reference to poor steel or concrete casing that may have allowed methane or some type of chemical to escape from the wells. "All of the problems you are reading about in Pennsylvania took place because of poor well construction. Ohio has stronger laws."

Responding to another question regarding possible water quality problems, Fleming told the audience to contact the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency if they believe their groundwater has been contaminated by drilling or fracking.

Stewart said horizontal drilling is a "game-changer," but conventional vertical drilling is "going to go quite for a while."

Smaller, traditional gas drillers "cannot afford to pay $5,000 per acre on a lease and a 20 percent royalty," he said.

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