I have a unique connection to Athens – it is home to Ohio University, mine and my parents' alma mater – and of course it remains the home of friends, family and fond memories. I had all of this in mind when the Athens County Commissioners considered a proposal to restrict natural gas and oil development.
The restrictions, of course, are being proposed by groups using false statements based in fear and speculation to halt oil and natural gas development before it can even begin. Opposition groups use this tactic knowing that once development begins, and the benefits begin racking up, communities take notice and support shale development overwhelmingly. Especially communities like ours that have a long history of poverty, high unemployment and economic decline. Luckily for us, we already have a strong contingent of shale supporters – the not-so-silent majority – who will fight actions like the ones being proposed.
Meanwhile, at the meeting a lot of bad information was thrown around. Given that the Utica shale has the potential to create thousands of new jobs and help return prosperity to Athens County, I feel compelled to correct some of the accusations thrown around, as the stakes are pretty high in this game. Look no further than a new study that confirms that states, and communities, that responsibly develop their homegrown energy resources tend to do better economically than areas that do not.
At the meeting many claimed hydraulic fracturing is a new process. While the conversation is new, the process is not. As the old adage goes, folks are entitled to their own opinion, not their own facts. The facts, according to ODNR and others, show that fracturing has been used in more than 15,000 Ohio wells since 1990 and in over 85,000 Ohio wells since 1953.
In all of these applications, and in over 1.2 million applications worldwide, there has never been a confirmed case of groundwater contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing. This has been reaffirmed by U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Groundwater Protection Council and state regulators across the nation, among many others.
The same process that has been used for years is used today, only now it's more refined, precise and includes significant environmental safeguards. Fracturing solutions are composed of 99.5 percent water and sand with 0.5 percent of solution. This is injected under pressure into shale formations to create tiny fissures allowing the oil and gas to escape. It is the same technique as used in the more common Clinton or Berea wells that have been developed in Ohio and Athens County since the 1950s.
It has been argued that horizontal exploration is new, and somehow alters the process into something entirely different. Again, this is not the case. Commercial use of horizontal well development was first practiced in France in 1983. Developing a well horizontally allows an operator to access reserves while decreasing their environmental footprint. With one horizontally well, operators are now able to access the equivalent of what would have previously taken 32 wells.
Some tend to refer to the whole process of development as called hydraulic fracturing. It is important to point out hydraulic fracturing is only one step used in development and lasts just a few days, three to five to be exact.
There are several other misconceptions. One is that hydraulic fracturing solution is secret, kept behind lock and key. This is simply not true. Want to know what's in fracturing fluid? Well, visit fracfocus.org to find a searchable well-by-well database of what's being used in the fracturing process; you can also visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources web page. Here in Ohio, state law stipulates that companies file a completion report, including the content of hydraulic fracturing solutions, to the state regulatory agency.
Another misconception is that groundwater is at risk during development. Section 1509.221 Ohio Code clearly states:
"A well shall be constructed using sufficient steel or conductor casing in a manner that supports unconsolidated sediments, that protects and isolates all underground sources of drinking water as defined by the Safe Drinking Water Act."
ODNR will only issue a permit if it concludes the extraction of oil and gas will not result in the presence of any contaminant in underground water where the presence of that contaminant may result in the system's not complying with any national primary drinking water regulation or may otherwise adversely affect the health of persons. In fact, many operators in Ohio are currently exceeding the regulations in place to provide additional protections against groundwater contamination.
To be clear – there is NO "Haliburton loophole." It has been suggested (incorrectly) that hydraulic fracturing was once regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and was strategically removed from SDWA. This is simply not the case. Hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated under the SDWA by the EPA in the history of the law or the agency. For the oil and gas industry, SDWA deals with the regulation of produced waters being disposed of via the underground injection control UIC) program. Hydraulic fracturing has always been regulated by states.
The development of oil and gas is also regulated by the Clean Air Act and no less than six federal environmental laws. Under the Clean Air Act in particular, oil and gas operations are subject to the National Primary and Secondary Ambient Air Quality Standards and Standards of Performance for New Stationary Sources portions of the Clean Air Act just to name a few. In fact, Ohio EPA is currently in the process of implementing new air quality rules on oil and gas development.
I am hopeful my testimony was helpful in separating science and experience from speculation and falsehoods. I am hopeful that Athens County will act in the best interest of all its citizens and embrace the economic hope that natural gas development will bring to our region.
Editor's note: Shawn Bennett is field director of Energy in Depth – Ohio. "Launched in 2011, Energy In Depth - Ohio (EID-Ohio) is a research, education and public outreach campaign focused on responsibly developing Ohio's natural resource base."