Tuesday, Jan. 31, I attended the Marietta College forum on the effects of hydraulic fracking. Four panelists presented information on all sides of the issue of fracking. My appreciation goes to the students and faculty that provided this opportunity for dialogue on an issue that is economically and environmentally important to our community. The McDonough auditorium was full of community members of all ages trying to understand this issue of fracking.
Dr. Robert Chase, head of the petroleum department at Marietta College, showed slides of the old conventional wells as compared to the new horizontal hydraulically fractured wells. He pointed out that in a 1260-acre unit, there would have been 32 conventional pads with one well each but with the new horizontal fracking only one well pad. Though this is a true statement it does not show the whole picture. Conventional well pads took up less than an acre and only had one well per pad. After three months of drilling, the company was gone and just returned to maintain and collect the product. The new horizontally fracked well pad can be 5 to 10 acres in size with 8 to 15 well heads and each well head can be fracked multiple times. This is like comparing a BP neighborhood gas station to a Dupont industrial site. The old wells needed 20 to 80,000 gallons of fresh water to frack where as the new horizontal wells need 5,000,000 or more. The new horizontal wells need more sand, more chemicals, and make more waste which require more storage tanks and a thousands of truck trips in and out 24/7/365.
The next speaker was Paul Feezel, head of the group, Carroll Concerned Citizens. About 95 percent of Carroll County is leased and they have been drilling for about a year. He spoke of their concerns about water contamination since most of the county citizens have private wells. Their group is working very hard to educate people about the importance of baseline water testing before drilling begins. Feezel acknowledged the economic boom in restaurants and motels and that some people had more money to spend. When asked by an audience member about issues to date, he expressed concern with the amount of truck traffic on county roads and bridges, the possibility for more accidents and spills, the enormity of the drilling sites, property values going down, but most of all, that the quality of life will never be the same in Carroll County. Paul Feezel expressed the fact that he is one of the few that has not leased.
Frank Leeper of Producers Service Corp. of Zanesville, a supplier of hydraulic fracturing and acidizing services, was the next to present. An audience member asked him about the chemicals used in horizontal hydraulic fracturing and why the oil and gas industry would not disclose them. Leeper started out by saying chemicals were only 1/2 to 1 percent of the 5,000,000 or more gallons used to fracture the well. That is not a small amount but in reality, that is more than 25,000 gallons of chemicals. He spoke of dilution but some of the chemicals used dilute at 1 part per billion. He read a list from the website fracfocus.org. which gave more the use of the chemicals rather than the names. Leeper did not mention toxic chemicals such as benzene, xylene, methane, toluene, arsenic, manganese and 700 others we do not know that have been mentioned on the EPA website. To explain why the oil and gas industry had been exempted from many of our federal environmental safety laws, Frank Leeper used the industry standard, "fracking has never been linked to well contamination." That is no longer true since the EPA report on Pavillion, Wyo., made that link this year and I think other findings will follow. The link has been difficult to make in the past because landowners and city water systems did not do baseline testing before drilling began and lawsuits claiming water contamination have all too often been settled with the terms locked in confidentiality.
Finally, Dr. Richard Wittburg, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department presented information on possible health concerns to humans and ecosystems. Being a man of science, Dr. Wittburg gave more cautionary statements and felt that more studies needed to be done. He acknowledged that the research to back up his concerns was very difficult to find. One thing that Dr. Wittburg said when a member of the audience asked "Why the rush? Why not have a moratorium, look at the EPA study and then proceed?" He responded that is not up to the oil and gas industry to slow down. They are working for the bottom line. It is up to the community and public officials to protect Ohio citizens and public lands. I had a difficult time with his answer at first, but now know that he is right.
The movie "Gasland" was mentioned by Frank Leeper as a Hollywood drama but I have to say thank you to Josh Fox for bringing this information to the public. I do not know if parts of the movie have been enhanced, but I do know it has people talking, questioning and thinking. Nothing wrong with that!
One member of the audience asked each panelist to recommend readings for more information. This idea was first suggested by Leeper so I thank him for emphasizing the importance of reading, attending meetings and learning as much as one can about horizontal hydraulic fracking. Some of the suggestions were websites such as fracfact.org, carrollconcernedcitizens.org, Chesapeake.com, odnr.gov and wcag-wv.org. I would also suggest attending meetings such as this forum.
There is a meeting Tuesday, Feb. 21, 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, 232 Third St., sponsored by SEOFIG (Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group). Cheryl Johncox, executive director of Buckeye Forest Council, will present "Deep-Shale Gas Drilling," the process of hydraulic fracking, the impacts on public health and environment, and current Ohio regulations.
I would like to end with one important thought. We, the citizens of Ohio, need to demand that our local, state and federal officials protect the people and the public land of Ohio. Start with your city, township and county officials. Call, stop them on the street, email and ask them what they are doing to protect the health and safety of our water, public lands and citizens' health. As Feezel mentioned, the citizens of Carroll County were amazed at the industrialization of this new horizontal drilling process.
Call, or write your state officials and ask how they are protecting citizens' health, safety, public lands, and water. Is it by taking local rule away with HB 278, allowing drilling within 150 ft. of dwellings in rural areas with HB 165 or opening public lands to leasing with HB 133? Request that your state legislators support the moratorium (HB 345) and the chemical disclosure bill (HB 351). As for our federal officials, ask them to pass the FRAC Act (S 587/HR 1084) which would require oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals and meet EPA regulations.
If you and I don't do it, who will?
Betsy Cook lives in Lowell.