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Ohio Utica Shale

GAO report says drilling risk is unknown

By Bob Downing Published: October 17, 2012

From the Associated Press:

Shale gas and oil drilling pose environmental and public health risks, but the extent of those risks is unknown, the Congressional Government Accountability Office says in new study.

The GAO, an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, reviewed existing scientific reports on shale drilling, and spoke to state regulators, industry experts and environmental groups.

Regulators from Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas said state investigations found that the part of the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has not been identified as a cause of groundwater contamination, the report notes.

Travis Windle, a spokesman for the industry group the Marcellus Shale Coalition, suggested that the GAO report, "like so many other independent reports, determines that hydraulic fracturing is safe and that this critical, tightly-regulated technology has never impacted groundwater."

But the GAO also noted that, according to studies and publications, "underground migration of gases and chemicals poses a risk of contamination to water quality." For example, the GAO said that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources found in 2008 that a gas well with a faulty seal allowed natural gas to build up and migrate into the local aquifer, infiltrating drinking water wells.

George Jugovic, president of the Pennsylvania environmental group PennFuture, said he doesn't think the public cares which specific part of the drilling process poses a threat to health or the environment.

"I don't think it serves the industry well to shy away from what is a legitimate public concern," Jugovic said, noting that every industrial process has some risk. The question is what risk people are willing to live with, he added.

Hydraulic fracturing has made it possible to tap into deep reserves of oil and gas but has also raised concerns about pollution. Large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected underground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas.

Contaminated wastewater from the drilling process can leak from aquifers via faulty well casings. Also, some studies have shown air quality problems around gas wells, while others have indicated no problems.

The industry and many federal and state officials say the practice is safe when done properly, and regulators are strengthening many rules on air pollution and the disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. But environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn't been enough research.

In a separate but related report, the GAO said both federal and state agencies face challenges in regulating shale oil and gas wells, such as a lack of data and limited legal authority. But they also found that some states -- such as Ohio and Pennsylvania -- have strengthened regulations in recent years, based on recommendations from independent reviews.

The second report also found that environmental regulators in North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wyoming mentioned challenges related to hiring or retaining staff. Ohio didn't report that problem.

The GAO also said that federal agencies use different methods to estimate recoverable shale gas reserves, but the overall trend has been sharply upward, as companies successfully drill in more and more locations.

The GAO didn't make any formal recommendations about shale gas regulation in the reports.

___

Online: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-732

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See the most recent drilling report and an injection wells map From NewsOutlet.org

Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.