Wise: Ohio natural gas boom sparks cautious OFU policy for now

Farmer shows dirty water which came from his well after fracking on his land

NE Ohio farmer shows OFU members one jar of fracking fluid and another jar of water he said came from his well after fracking on his land.

One of the issues sure to be on the radar of the Ohio Farmers Union for some time to come is the Ohio’s natural gas boom.

How long the industrial and economic activity lasts – and what the lasting environmental consequences will be — are just two of the many questions OFU and others are asking.

OFU’s current policy statement concerns the method by which natural gas drillers will extract gas from the ground. So-called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” will be used to exploit the Marcellus and Utica Shale gas formations. For now, drilling will occur primarily in Eastern Ohio.

Lying thousands of feet below the earth’s surface, natural gas is embedded in the pores of the shale. Fracking technology allows well drillers to bore vertically for hundreds or thousands of feet and then bore horizontally for up to a mile. At extremely high pressure, fracking fluid, also called drilling fluid, is forced down the well where it creates fractures in the rock, releasing the gas to be collected. The fluid is mostly water and sand but does include chemicals.

Fracking proponents say that their drilling activity is so far beneath the water table that the chances for them to pollute groundwater are slim to none. They also point to industry practices of hauling away drilling site waste water by the truckload to be recycled or for disposal. Opponents point to evidence of environmental havoc being created in states like Pennsylvania where the gas boom is already well underway. They complain of clear cutting, truck and machinery traffic wearing on rural roads and noise and water pollution.

OFU’s current policy on fracking states:

OFU calls on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to assure that the oil and gas drilling practice known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “hydro-fracking” is regulated to protect the health of Ohio citizens and the quantity and quality of Ohio’s groundwater.

What this means going forward, and whether OFU bolsters the policy, hinges on several potential policy prescriptions which could be addressed by the Ohio General Assembly in the next several months.

“What the Farmers Union is looking for from the legislature and the Kasich Administration is twofold. We want transparency in place regarding what natural gas companies are putting into the ground and how they dispose of their waste, and we want to know that rural landowners are protected and dealt with fairly,” said Roger Wise, OFU president.

Wise also said that local county, township and municipality officials should be in the loop where drilling activity occurs.

“We know from our neighbors in Pennsylvania that drilling related truck and industrial traffic is wearing on rural roads. I think it’s important that all of these kinds of impacts are well-planned for before cash-strapped local governments are faced with crumbling infrastructure,” Wise said.

Wise believes that several items in Ohio Senate Bill 212 could go a long way toward Ohio moving into this new gas economy responsibly. Provisions include setting up a fund for clean water restoration – to be paid for by industry in some manner – as well as gas company disclosure of fracking fluid contents and waste disposal plans. Regarding industry dealings with landowners, the legislation would standardize mineral rights leases in Ohio among other things.

Wise acknowledges that events are moving quickly toward a large Ohio natural gas industry. He encourages all Farmers Union members and other rural landowners to be vigilant regarding their property and to ask lots of questions and arm themselves with information. He also wants to hear from his OFU members either through their regional or county chapters or directly.

“The natural gas boom is here and we have to hope that the benefits far outweigh the costs in rural Ohio. I’m confident this will be a topic of discussion at OFU meetings in the near future, including our annual convention in January,” Wise said.

“I hope to hear from many of our members as we consider this issue as an organization.”


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