Utica shale: ODNR working to ensure water stays safe

NILES, Ohio — Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer said everything that can be done is being done to ensure water supplies are not affected by any process of the Utica shale drilling process.

Zehringer spoke Jan. 16 at the Regional Chamber Government Affairs Council in Niles.

Wells and production

The Utica shale is thought to exist from Trumbull County to Washington County in Ohio.

Zehringer said 225 wells were drilled in 2012  and 661 wells were drilled in 2013. He expects the number to climb to 1,180 wells by the end of 2014. Although the shale boom has been busy in Ohio, he thinks it hasn’t reached its busiest point yet.

The director said the production numbers are big: One horizontal oil wells is producing the same amount as 312 conventional wells in Ohio. As far as gas wells, one horizontal well is producing the same amount as 449 conventional wells and sometimes even more.

Staffing

Due to the boom in the shale industry in such a small amount of time, the ODNR has had to increase its staffing levels, tripling the staff since 2011 in response to the Utica shale drilling.

When Zehringer took the reins at the ODNR in 2011, he immediately hired Rick Simmers, as chief of the division of the oil and gas resources.

Always a risk

Simmer said there are risks to drilling, but he feels the risks can be mitigated with industry regulations in Ohio.

He said that while he has heard about the water quality and supply fears, he feels that with the regulations in place, water can be kept safe in Ohio.

He added Ohio’s law on well construction is very defined. In fact, he said Texas is modifying its well construction regulations to be more like Ohio’s. Additionally, a permit needs to explain how the driller expects to case the well and they need to complete a baseline of water quality sources around the wellhead.

Simmers said he is confident, especially with the new distinct rules and regulations to be laid out by the ODNR, the process will be safer than in other states.

He said if someone does suspect a water problem, a hydrologist with ODNR will complete an investigation.

Pennsylvania

He added that, unlike in Pennsylvania, the state will do the investigations. In Pennsylvania, the oil and gas companies drilling are responsible for completing the water investigation.

Simmers said the ODNR has chemists, hydrologists, engineers and enforcement officials ready to investigate and handle any claims related to the shale industry.

Zehringer said he is working to ensure water quality is at the top of the ODNR’s list of concerns when it comes to the shale industry.

He said one thing that he feels keeps it safe are the six layers of steel and the six layers of cement that are used to drill the well.

He added that as far as he knows, he hasn’t heard of any water wells compromised because of hydraulic fracturing.

“We have inspectors onsite and staff to witness it the whole way,” said Zehringer.

Industry view

Zehringer said he shares Gov. John Kasich’s view of the industry. He said Kasich hopes the industry thrives in Ohio but not at the expense of Ohio’s citizens or the environment.

Severance tax

Zehringer touched on the proposed severance tax for Ohio and how it could impact the ODNR. He said the tax will generate more funds for the division, but some will also be taken away, which could be a concern.

He said the funding generated by the severance tax would pay for a plan to plug orphan wells, which are very expensive to plug and are in various stages of needing plugged across Ohio.

However, the severance tax, if passed as it stands, would mean less income because the owners of conventional gas and oil wells would not be paying fees like they are now.

About the Author

Kristy Foster Seachrist lives in Columbiana County raising sheep and horses. She earned her degree from Youngstown State University and has worked in both print and broadcast journalism. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/fosterk96. More Stories by Kristy Foster Seachrist

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