Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas in the Utica shale has not created any major problems with Ohio’s drinking water, according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Its Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management has investigated 183 water-well complaints that Ohio landowners filed from 2010 through mid-October. Only six water supplies were impacted by drilling over the nearly four-year period, state spokesman Mark Bruce said.
All of those problems stemmed from old, vertical-only wells, not today’s big horizontal wells that rely on fracking to free natural gas, oil and other liquids from rocks deep underground, he said.
To date, Ohio has approved 927 horizontal wells in the Utica shale formation, of which 577 had been drilled as of Oct. 12. A total of 164 Utica wells are in production. Thirty drilling rigs are in Ohio.
“None of the impacted water supplies were related to hydraulic fracturing or horizontal shale drilling,” Bruce said in an email.
That information is not surprising, said Shawn Bennett, a spokesman for Energy in Depth-Ohio, a pro-industry drilling group. Older wells and abandoned wells are more likely to create water-well problems with neighbors than the horizontal wells, he said.
“There’s nothing with Utica wells at all,” he said.
Senate Bill 165 tightened Ohio’s rules on well construction and should further reduce the risk when those rules are adopted, Bennett said.
Activists are concerned that 5 million gallons of water are used to frack a well and that the water cannot be cleaned and reused and is lost by injecting it into rocks below ground in Ohio, said Mary Greer of Shalersville Township, a spokeswoman for Concerned Citizens Ohio.
“That’s wrecked water. It cannot be remediated and can’t be used again,” she said of wastewater that gets injected.
Surface spills that can pollute drinking water remain her group’s biggest concern, she said.
Most complaints associated with drilling concern drinking-water wells that run dry or produce water that is discolored, smelly or filled with sediment.
But gas from poorly cased and poorly cemented wells can seep into neighboring drinking-water wells.
There is another contributing factor: Ohio has shallow pockets of natural gas that can also get into groundwater. Drilling gets blamed for something that has been going on naturally for years, pro-drilling groups say.
One Ohio complaint came in 2011 from Carroll County, where the state found high levels of salt in a well in Brown Township. The state traced the problem to a leak from a nearby drilling rig’s temporary disposal pit. The company involved, EnerVest, supplied clean drinking water for several months until the salt levels dropped.
In comparison, Pennsylvania, where drilling began in the Marcellus shale earlier than Ohio’s drilling, has received 969 complaints since 2008, according to its Department of Environmental Protection. Drilling and leaks/spills were linked to 106 water problems, the agency said.
Experts encourage homeowners to have their water tested for methane and other contaminants before drilling begins because such baseline tests are essential, especially if problems arise later.
Ohio also requires drillers to test neighbors’ water wells within 1,500 feet of drilling sites.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.