Oil and Gas Forum Set at Notre Dame in Munson
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
Geauga County residents will have another opportunity to become informed about the incipient horizontal drilling of Utica shale.
At the end of 2012, Munson Township Trustee Irene McMullen received approval from the other trustees to organize a panel of people to provide more information.
The forum is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Notre Dame Educational Center auditorium on Auburn Road in Munson.
It is the largest venue in the township, McMullen said, noting the forum held at the West Wood Park center last Fall was so well attended, it was standing room only.
With the support of the other trustees and Geauga County Commissioners as well as encouragement from Munson resident Catherine Whitright, McMullen has lined up four speakers for the evening.
They include an Ohio Department of Natural Resources representative, an engineer, an Energy Pol-icy Center spokesman from Cleveland State University and Sen. John Eklund.
Thumper Trucks Motivate Forum
McMullen said she had been down the road a ways with the project when she started receiving phone calls from people living along state Route 306.
A slow-moving convoy of "thumper trucks" had waddled down the state road, sending vibrations into the nether regions of Geauga County, thereby mapping potential faults and layers of rock, clay, etc.
The purported purpose of the process is to sell the data to companies interested in sinking deep wells in the vicinity and extracting oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids such as propane, ethane and butane, I have been told.
Residents were irate they had never been warned that such an intrusive process was going to take place along their road.
"People got really interested," McMullen said, adding the activity made the possibility of drilling seem more immi-nent.
"The whole exercise was an education in the regulatory system. (The thumper truck company) had no obligation to talk to us," she said. "All that work could happen and we wouldn't even get a phone call."
Upon investigating the avenues of local control open to the township, McMullen discovered there are very few.
The ODNR is the only regulatory body for oil and gas drilling, a decision made by the state about eight years ago.
Township trustees have some oversight leverage when it comes to making sure, as the drilling process progresses, that the township roads are maintained.
I understand -- from talking to trustees in Parkman where the Mast well has been drilled, but not cracked -- that the gas well company was agreeable about repairing any damage done by the huge equipment and frack-water trucks, but only if the township road superintendent held them accountable.
Be Proactive Be Informed
McMullen said trustees and residents need to be proactive on these matters because, with the State of Ohio overseeing the projects, drilling processes could be well along without the trustees being any the wiser.
Currently, the driller has to get two permits from ODNR -- one for the primary vertical well and a second for the horizontal shaft -- but a lot might happen before the company gets that far.
Close to the Company Vest
An oil and gas company usually buys up or leases the mineral rights to enough adjacent properties to make up at least a section or a square mile of land where it wants to begin horizontal drilling.
When preparing for the drilling process, the company will build a 5- to 10-acre stone pad for the facility and, potentially, for a number of wells spreading out in different directions from that single pad.
Not all their activities must be recorded with the county, according to officials I have interviewed.
So, there is not a sure way to find out if a neighbor has leased his or her mineral rights and many of the landowners are playing their cards very close to their vests in this game.
"There are lots of large land owners who wouldn't need (anyone) to collaborate (with). There have to be landowners who could keep it real quiet," McMullen said.
There are a lot of unknowns flitting about this issue and many people are passionately for or against horizontal drilling.
However, "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing of oil- or gas-rich shale is nothing new.
If you see the rusty evidence of a gas well in a field, chances are it was fracked up to 40 years ago.
The newest technology whereby the well shaft goes down to the Utica shale then makes about a right angle to follow the shale bed, fracking all the way, is what concerns many of those against it.
They believe the process is rife with environmental dangers to our aquifers and surface water. The disposal of millions of gallons of fracking fluids into existing wells that have been declared by the ODNR as injection wells is an ongoing concern.
Less Shouting, More Sharing
But McMullen is determined the upcoming forum will not devolve into a shouting match.
"We want this to be a basic information-sharing night, not a debate," she said.
Speakers include Matt Hammer, senior project manager for Hull and Associates, an engineering firm, and Hull CEO Craig Kasper.
"I'm hoping they'll talk about injection wells and their impact on the community," McMullen said.
Senator Eklund is attending as much to gather information as to speak.
"He's real interested in hearing our views," she said, adding he was eager to participate and was very helpful.
The ODNR representative may be Tom Hill, the lead inspector for the North Region ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, to talk about his department's role and the basic regulations that drillers must meet.
Geauga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Forest Burt has agreed to moderate the forum.
McMullen said questions may be asked once the speakers have finished their presentations.
There is another forum planned for the end of January by the Geauga Growth Partnership. I will provide details as they become available to me.