Several companies are pursuing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of the natural gas-rich Marcellus shale and oil-laden Utica shale deposits that lie far beneath the earth's surface in Ohio and surrounding states.
But environmental groups have grown increasingly concerned about the potential impact of the fracking process on ground water.
"Some people think it's not their problem because they're not landowners leasing to a gas or oil company but this is really a community issue," said Jann Adams, of Marietta, a member of the Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group.
"Some chemicals you can't treat if they get into the water, so the damage would be irreversible," she said.
Adams said her main concern is that millions of gallons of fresh water are used in the fracking process at each well site. She said the water is trucked to the site and mixed with sand and "a cocktail of chemicals" that are pumped into the layers of shale.
"But the oil and gas companies don't have to reveal what these chemicals are because the fracking fluids are not covered by the federal Safe Water Drinking Act," Adams added.
By the numbers
According to statistics from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources:
13 horizontal hydraulic drilling permits have been issued for Marcellus shale sites.
43 horizontal hydraulic drilling permits have been issued for Utica shale sites.
Information on hydraulic drilling and regulation at Ohio DNR website, www.dnr.state.oh.us.
For some landowner considerations about hydraulic drilling, visit the website developed by a Carroll County Citizen's group at www.carrollconcernedcitizens.org.
More to come
in The Marietta Times
Saturday: The impact of exploration on the economy; a profile of a local group concerned about fracking; new college courses starting in the field; and where to go for information.
In an article entitled "Environmental Dangers of Hydro-Fracturing the Marcellus Shale," Robert Myers, director of environmental studies at Pennsylvania's Lock Haven University, provides a list of some of those chemicals obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The list includes ethylbenzene, ethylene glycol, glutaraldehyde, isopropanol and methanol. Myers says many of the chemicals have been linked to cancer or other health issues.
According to St. Marys, W.Va., resident Pam Howard, who works with Adams and the Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group, benzene was found in some ground water near a well site in Wetzel County, W.Va.
"Drilling is being done in both Wetzel and Marshall counties, where the hillsides are very steep. They build 5- to 10-acre pads, using gravel, tamped-down dirt and some concrete," she said. "And when they drill, 30 to 70 percent of the water (with the chemical brine) comes back out of the well after fracking."
Howard said the brine is stored on site in huge ponds that have the potential to leak over the hillsides and into valleys below.
"And they use 3 million to 5 million gallons of fresh water each time a fracking job is done," she said. "That's a concern to me and others."
Howard said the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is currently working on emergency legislation to address concerns about brine storage.
In the Buckeye State the Ohio Department of Natural Resources regulates hydraulic fracturing wells.
"Vertical hydraulic fracturing has gone on for 50 years in Ohio," said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, spokeswoman for the ODNR.
"Vertical drilling is nothing new but about 10 years ago companies began doing horizontal hydraulic drilling, which is performed 5,000 to 8,000 feet below the water aquifer," she said. "Hydraulic fracturing has been used on approximately 81,000 wells in Ohio without any negative impact on the ground water.
"But that's not to say there haven't been some violations that could have impacted surface waters," Hetzel-Evans added.
She said Ohio's hydraulic fracturing regulations are very different from regulations in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
"We've met with officials from those states and have learned a lot," Hetzel-Evans said. "There are only two things companies can do with the non-productive fluids (that come back out of the fracturing process). They can recycle and reuse it, which seems to be a movement within the industry.
"Or the brine material can be trucked away from the site and stored in an injection well deep underground," she said. "ODNR has been in charge of these injection wells since the 1980s and there are about 183 of those wells in the state."
Hetzel-Evans noted that Pennsylvania provides less than 10 injection wells for hydraulic drilling companies.
"We do allow fresh water impoundments to be constructed on some sites where the fresh water can be stored," she said. "But there are no sites that have impoundments for brine and waste fluids in Ohio at this time."
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency regulates air quality at hydraulic fracturing drilling sites, according to OEPA spokesman Mike Settles.
"We're getting more involved in that regulation process," he said. "Right now there's a draft general air permit being developed in anticipation of increased activity at larger well sites."
Settles said the new permit will help make sure the air around production sites is safe while providing business with the most efficient option to get operations up and running.
The draft general permit includes emission limits, operating restrictions, and monitoring, testing and reporting requirements, covering a variety of emissions sources found at most shale gas production sites including internal combustion engines, dehydration systems, truck-loading racks, storage tanks, flares and unpaved roadways.