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Ohio Utica Shale

Threats to surface water top drilling risks in new survey

By Bob Downing Published: June 19, 2013

CLEVELAND: Storage and treatment of liquid drilling wastes, air emissions of methane, water withdrawls for drilling and site construction are among the biggest problems facing shale gas drilling in Ohio and other states.

Those four problems were at the top of a list put together by researchers Nathan Richardson and Hal Gordon of Resources for the Future, a non-profit group based in Washington, D.C.

The survey included 215 experts from government agencies, industry, academia and non-government organizations ranking 264 separate drilling threats from most serious to least serious.

A total of only 12 risks were ranked as a top priority by all four groups, Gordon told the audience at the National Academy of Engineering’s two-day shale gas conference in Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

The conference that wrapped up on Wednesday drew 850 to the Case Western Reserve University campus.

Seven of the 12 threats cited by all four survey groups were linked to surface water threats, two to air emissions, two to groundwater threats and one to the site construction, Gordon said.

The threat of earthquakes from injection wells, community impacts of shale development and well cementing problems were also chosen less frequently, he said.

Public debate and concern does not to necessarily reflect the risks selected by the experts, Gordon said.

"Shale gas drilling is a contentious issue…but a consensus does exist," he said.

The biggest risks are mostly above ground, based on the survey results, he said.

The survey, he said, could help create dialogue among the parties to reduce the controversy around shale drilling, he said.

The report. Pathways to Dialogue: What the Experts Say About the Environmental Risks of Shale Gas Development, is available at

A closer look at chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking also reflects a reduced risk to the public, said engineering professor Joseph Ryan of the University of Colorado.

Drilling company may use between 600 and 1,000 different chemicals to crack the shale under pressure thousands of feet below the surface, along with large volumes of water and sand, he said.

The chemicals are added for specific reasons to aid the drilling.

But the number of chemicals that are hazardous, persistent and mobile is only 28, and that reduces the threat from hundreds to under 30, he said.

More needs to be done to analyze possible pathways for those chemicals to reach ground or surface waters, he said.

Air pollution from methane leaks is a big issue that is too often overlooked, said Gabrielle Petron, at atmospheric scientist with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency and the University of Colorado.

Methane contributes to unhealthy ozone levels and is a potent global warming gas, she said.

Utica shale development is having a growing impact in eastern Ohio, said Iryna Lendel, a Cleveland State University professor.

Thirteen of the 20 Ohio counties with Utica wells saw their sales tax income jump by an average of 21.1 percent from 2011 to 2012, she said.

Akron, Canton and Youngstown saw their sales tax incomes grow 17.3 percent from 2011 to 2012, in part due to Utica shale, she said.

A typical Utica shale well creates 11.5 full-time jobs during construction and requires 410 workers in 150 different occupations to complete it, she said.



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