Drilling companies and Gov. John Kasich see a boom coming as reserves of natural gas trapped in deep shale formations are tapped. Chesapeake Energy Corp. recently announced its leases in Ohio are worth $20 billion. Kasich called the discoveries “huge,” predicting the finds would help revitalize the economy by adding jobs.
The industry’s track record, especially from neighboring Pennsylvania, indicates far more caution is needed than has so far been exercised. The drilling technique used to get at the deep reserves, called hydraulic fracturing, uses millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals, injected under high pressure to break rock formations. The method poses serious environmental concerns, especially the handling of used drilling fluid.
A federal Department of Energy panel has wisely recommended improving the safety and environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing. Among others steps, the seven-member Natural Gas Subcommittee recently called for better tracking of used drilling fluid and more careful disposal. It also recommended against the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing fluid, pointing to the presence of carcinogenic chemicals, and for drilling companies to fully disclose the list of other chemicals they add.
While recognizing the benefits of expanding the use of a plentiful, clean-burning fuel, the federal energy panel urged a balanced approach, concluding that environmental and human health must not be sacrificed in the process. Meanwhile, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is continuing its study on hydraulic fracturing and its potential effects on drinking water.
What has Ohio done? It has concentrated regulatory power at the state level, shouldering aside local concerns, even opening state parks to drilling rigs, with oversight by a board dominated by state regulators and industry representatives. What’s necessary before drilling ramps up in Ohio is a comprehensive assessment of what federal energy and environmental researchers uncover, the results guiding the issuing of every drilling permit.