WOUB's live panel discussion on fracking, "Newswatch
In-Depth: Fracking Frenzy," aired Tuesday evening, providing a forum for
southeast Ohio to ask questions or join the discussion via phone calls, emails,
tweets, or Facebook messages.
Tim Sharp, news director of WOUB, and Athens NEWS Editor Terry Smith served as
moderators for the panel discussion, which featured four experts and/or
advocates on different sides of the controversial issue.
Representing the pro-fracking side were Terry
Fleming, executive director of the Ohio Petroleum Council, and Robert W. Chase,
professor and chair of the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Geology at
Marietta College. Representing the other side of the issue were Natalie Kruse,
an assistant professor of environmental studies at Ohio University, and
Bernhard Debatin, a professor of journalism and representative of "Slow Down Fracking in Athens County,"
a citizens group.
People who support oil and gas development in Athens
County and the surrounding region argue that a local boom in fracking will
greatly benefit the economically depressed region economically.
Fleming discussed this aspect of the issue at length.
"It's one of the best things to happen to the state
of Ohio, maybe ever," he declared. "Having grown up in Appalachia — I grew in
Marietta…, the exciting thing for me is it happening in a part of the state
that needs it the worst, a part of the state that's been in despair, high
unemployment, hopelessness," Fleming said. "Now there is an opportunity not
just in the oil field but in the auxiliary jobs that are created. The jobs that
are going to be created not just at the oil patch but as a result of this are
going to be a real economic boom to a part of the state that is long overdue."
On the other side of the issue, however, fracking
skeptics, both in emails and calls and on the WOUB panel, raised concerns about
fracking operations contaminating groundwater and how that could cripple the
burgeoning local foods movement in Athens County and elsewhere.
More than 230 people from Athens and other counties
in the areas recently signed a letter to the Athens County Commissioners,
asking them to protect local land, air and water from the possible negative
impacts of fracking.
Kruse acknowledged that no matter what anybody says,
some level of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas is likely on the horizon for
our area. "I'm not na ve enough to think that this isn't going to happen," she
said, "but just like every other industrial process, there are environmental
and health risks, and by denying them or glossing over them, we're doing a
disservice to Ohio and to Appalachian Ohio."
Throughout the show, people called and emailed in
various questions, pertaining to such issues as the degree of local impact from
fracking for farmers and the risks of water contamination.
Kruse addressed the importance of residents in the
area to test their water before any drilling can happen.
"We're actually working with local farmers doing baseline
testing on their water, because ultimately, there is a risk of water
contamination either due to surface spills or poor casings of wells, and those
industries are reliant on fresh clean water, and it is a basis of a lot of the
economy in the area," Kruse said. "And I think one of the most important things
people can do is know the quality of the water they have now, and know the
quality of the water that they're putting into these amazing organic local
farms now, so if there's a change they can figure out why that is and try to
mitigate that problem."
Fleming, however, dismissed the possibility of water
contamination from deep-shale fracking.
"If the casings are done wrong or you have a bad
operator at the top [maybe], but from the actual process, it is absolutely
impossible to contaminate the ground water (as a result of deep underground
hydraulic fraturing). Impossible, scientifically impossible. Can't happen,"
He repeated his insistence on the low-risk impact of
fracking when he said the chances of him getting into an automobile accident
after leaving the meeting were much higher than any risks we face with
fracking. He also noted that a Kings Island water ride uses more water than a
typical fracking operation (though Kruse lasted noted that typically that water
is recycled over and over again, and isn't tainted by chemicals).
Chase of Marietta College offered some advice,
however, that seemed to suggest that water contamination may happen more often
than what Fleming was stating. He advised landowners to work with a competent
oil attorney and to get a lease that gives them protective measures "like
ensuring their water is tested by an independent party before anything is done,
then test[ing] it again after a well is drilled, and then monitor[ing] it."
That way, if they see any changes that cause them problems, they can "sue," he
Professor Debatin's, to some extent, took a macro
perspective on hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas. He maintained that the
industrial process itself is a perfect example of why the United States needs
to revamp its energy policies.
"America is far behind many other countries," he
argued. "We are making a big mistake by keeping burning fossil fuels as if they
are there forever. And I see that the fracking frenzy that we are having in
this country is just another way not to deal with a really, really urgent
"… Fracking as it is being practiced here is very
dangerous and it is a short-lived activity. The jobs that are created — typical
for extractive industries by the way — are short-lived, often jobs that are not
going to the local people. They are mostly even going to out-of-state people,
and in the end we are in a situation where a very beautiful area that we have
here is turned into an industrial area, and people who live here will have a
very hard time making a living once the industry disappears."
WHAT ABOUT THE AREA'S geology would lead drillers to think the area
has potential for large-scale oil and gas development, Fleming responded, "Until
you dig a hole, you don't know what's there, so when everyone is excited and
looking at the economic benefits, anybody in the industry will tell you that
until you dig a hole, you won't know what's there," Fleming said. "The Utica
shale is in 82 of the 88 counties, but whether it's there in amounts to be
economically recoverable or not, we don't know until we dig a hole."
Smith asked the panelists about the huge divide
between pro- and anti- sides in the fracking debate, where the former insist
that groundwater has never been contaminated by fracking, and the latter
suggest that it's unavoidable.
"There is sort of a semantic trick going on here,"
Debatin said. "Fracking is not just what happens 7,000 feet underneath the
surface; it's an industrial process. And we've had this before. We had the coal
boom here, and it went from boom to bust. People were left alone, nobody cared,
and the industry just disappeared when they had taken out what they wanted to
To watch an archive video copy of the program, visit
WOUB's website at http://woub.org/fracking.
The panel discussion and program were part of a
cooperative effort to highlight the regional fracking issue by WOUB, The Athens NEWS and the Marietta Times. The news outlets' recent
coverage of the issue have been aggregated on a "Flare Code" site that can be
accessed with a smart-phone. The code is located on this printed page or web
The site was built with help from an OU
student-developed company, Flare Code.