Garrettsville – People want to know what’s going on along Liberty Street. At first, when the trees and brush were cleared, and a wide gravel drive was laid, the assumption was that someone must be building a new house. But then unfamiliar signs went up and big trucks were seen coming and going.
As it turns out, this is a drilling site, not a construction site. With a 500-foot setback, the rig hasn’t been visible from the street. (By now, the initial drilling rig has been removed; replaced by a production truck rig.)
Could it be fracking?
“No, it’s just an old-fashioned oil and gas well,”says Lynette Patrick, who owns the property with her husband, Rick. It’s not fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing), which goes down much deeper and wider than conventional drilling, into veins of shale rock.
There are 300-400 wells like the Patricks’ in surrounding townships, says Bill Bennett, President of Cedar Valley Energy and principal driller on the 40-acre Patrick property. He says such conventional drilling has been common in this area for nearly 50 years, as northern Ohio is known for its abundance of oil reserves.
Bennett started establishing oil and gas wells in Portage and Trumbull counties in 1981 and estimates his company operates 40 wells in Portage County alone; each approximately 4,425 feet deep. He doesn’t foresee a big boom in conventional drilling simply because most available sites have already been identified and tapped.
On the other hand, fracking wells are starting to multiply throughout Ohio, with a handful identified in Portage, Geauga and Trumbull counties. These new wells drill down 6,000-7,000 feet, then outward, parallel to the ground surface, 3,000-6,000 feet horizontally. Water and chemicals are injected at high pressure to break up rock reservoirs and release more oil and gas for extraction.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website, more than 300 permits have been issued for fracking wells in Ohio since 2009. To date, 95 of these horizontal shale wells have been drilled (most in the Utica shale formations and 18 in Marcellus shale).
Also associated with fracking, Ohio has more than 170 active high-pressure disposal wells, typically 5,000 feet deep. Such disposal wells — in which millions of gallons of leftover waste fluid are injected into the rock — have been linked to 11 earthquakes that clustered around Youngstown last year.
Fracking opponents worry that the chemicals used in the process contaminates underground aquifers. They also cite excessive water use (since four to nine million gallons of water are injected each time a well is fracked), wastewater pollution, and air pollution from open-air wastewater pits. The Ohio legislature is considering establishing a moratorium on horizontal stimulation of oil and gas wells until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does further testing on the relationship of horizontal drilling to drinking water quality.
Those who favor fracking say it offers potential for industry growth in areas that need economic development. They claim the controversy is an over-reaction and that strict regulations would hurt the region’s domestic energy production. Bennett, who does not do fracking, says that hydraulic fracturing is “still a very new play.”
For that reason, he tries to be patient with the public’s heightened sensitivity to his drilling operations. Bennett says, “People’s perceptions of drilling are changing, but our process is exactly the same as it has been for decades. I want to convey that we’ve been doing this since the mid-‘60s, so there’s nothing new going on here.” [hr] [related_posts]