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ADA — Experts will be making their way to Ohio Northern University this Friday to discuss the hot-button topic of hydraulic fracturing, commonly called "fracking," as they familiarize professionals and community members about the growing Ohio industry.

It’s a relevant topic not only for eastern Ohioans but for all Ohioans, not only because it lowers unemployment rates and lowers natural gas prices for all citizens but because injection wells exist in northwest Ohio, including in Auglaize and Hardin counties. These wells inject the fracking byproduct deep underground, potentially causing unknown, long-term consequences.

The fracking panel will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 12 in Dicke Hall, part of the annual meeting of the Ohio Association of Economists and Political Scientists. Admission is free.

Panelists include Mike Chadsey, of Energy in Depth Ohio, a partner of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association; and Greg Lawson, of the Buckeye Institute, which supports the current industry. The panel also includes Janetta King, of Innovation Ohio, and Jack Shaner, of the Ohio Environmental Council, who hope for more regulations to be implemented, public policy- and environment-wise, respectively.

David McClough, an economics professor at ONU who organized the event as part of the conference, said the topic is relevant to many and should be a very informative evening for conference members as well as local residents.

“The natural resource is located here. It affects a lot of folks directly who are sitting atop the shale. And it also affects the state directly in terms of public policy,” he said.

What is fracking?

The process, formally called hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting millions of gallons of a water-chemical mixture thousands of feet into the ground to fracture the shale and extract natural gas. The resulting natural gas is mined through wells.

There are two major shale deposits that are deep underground in Ohio: the Utica Shale, which stretches over eastern and central Ohio, and the Marcellus Shale, which primarily sits in eastern side of the state along the Ohio-Pennsylvania and Ohio-West Virginia borders. There’s also a 250-mile pipeline that’s going to be built that will stretch from northeast Ohio to Ontario, carrying the gas from extraction sites to processing facilities in Michigan and Canada. Some worry that could be cause for concern if leaks occurred.

The technology to access this energy through horizontal fracking has been developed over the past few decades. The natural gas extracted could potentially provide energy for hundreds of years while decreasing foreign dependence on energy.

But fracking is a contentious debate, especially because of possible environmental impacts with air, water and land, and public policy issues surrounding the subject. There are also things done with the fracking waste water that worry some geologists and environmentalists.

Fracking has been widely used in Ohio and in other surrounding states with the resource, such as Pennsylvania, but the modern horizontal deep fracking technique was first used in Texas in 1998.

“We want to make sure that people understand that this is a very tightly regulated industry on the federal level, and particularly here in Ohio at the state level,” said Mike Chadsey, of Energy in Depth Ohio, based in Granville.

Possible benefits

The most obvious benefit to the budding Ohio industry is economic.

“You may not have this down the street or in your backyard, but it’s going to benefit you with lower natural gas prices and lower unemployment, no matter where you are in the state of Ohio,” Chadsey said.

It’s not just the drilling industry that could benefit.

“You have a whole bunch of other industries that are going to be able to start growing and expanding as a result of this industry, taking off as the shale continues to be developed. Of course, you got hotels, the hospitality industry and things like that,” said Lawson, of the Buckeye Institute.

But the spin-off industry possibilities go beyond that.

“The Utica Shale has a lot of wet gas, which means that there is basically stuff you can extract from there that’s very important in the chemical engineering industry that produces everything from rubber to plastic,” Lawson said. “So industries like that are also going to benefit.”

Steel mills too, have been hiring to help build the pipeline and provide equipment, he said. But on top of there being money potential for workers, taxpayers could benefit through an extraction tax.

“The potential for Ohio to benefit from the extraction of these natural resources cannot be overstated. The Utica Shale has brought many, many large oil and gas companies to Ohio, and they are requesting permits and setting up wells at a very, very rapid rate. … And right now, Ohio has one of the lowest extraction taxes in the country,” said King, of Innovation Ohio, a nonpartisan public policy think-tank based in Columbus.

She added, “If Ohio taxed the extraction of natural gas at the current rate, we would get about $250 million. If we just went to the rate of Texas, which is very oil and gas friendly, and right in the middle of the pack, we would stand to gain $2.5 billion,” she said. “It’s a game changer.

“We need to make sure Ohioans get their fair share of fracking benefits … and that the oil and gas companies don’t run away with our resources,” she said.

Controversial issue

Controversies over fracking span from environmental to public policy issues.

Although these shale deposits aren’t in western Ohio, that doesn’t mean western Ohioans won’t be affected by the shale gas industry. Injection wells are needed to deposit the fracking waste water that’s created back into the ground, and Shaner, of the Ohio Environmental Council, said western Ohio has been considered for this because of the region’s geology. However, most of the existing injection wells are concentrated in the northern and eastern areas of the state.

“Ohio disposes of waste water — tainted, toxic waste water from drilling operations — by injecting it deep underground. It is laden with brine that has naturally occurring toxins, man-made toxins, even radioactive constituents,” Shaner said.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, there are nearly 200 injection wells in the state and growing, including one in Auglaize County and one along the border of Hardin County. The fracking byproduct is injected thousands of feet underground, beneath water tables, but Shaner said the problem is that the long-term effects of this process are unknown.

“We don’t have a perfect road map of the underground geology of Ohio. We don’t know where all the faults are. We don’t know what the high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of waste may do to formations that exist underground,” Shaner said. “It is possible that these are ticking time bombs.”

Improperly drilled injection wells have been at fault for supposedly causing earthquakes. Shaner said this specifically happened in Youngstown late last year, when a well was drilled too deep and inadvertently lubricated an unknown fault line.

And while the industry will create thousands of jobs, King said it doesn’t necessarily mean that Ohioans will be the primary beneficiaries.

“One of the things that we were seeing was that a lot of out-of-state workers were being hired, and I think Ohioans would feel better about fracking if jobs were going to Ohioans,” she said. “I think that makes a lot of people concerned about what is the benefit of fracking to us?”

As far as fracking itself goes, there have been reports of residents who live near fracking wells that complain of contaminated well water in Pennsylvania, although oil and gas companies argue that contaminations are unrelated to the fracking process. There is also a lot of water that’s is used during the process, upwards of five million gallons of water for each fracture operation.

“These are very thirsty operations,” Shaner said. “In eastern Ohio, there is a controversy that water will be withdrawn from public lakes.”

There are also land issues as far as whether landowners have mineral rights to their property, what the long-term effects of this practice will do to land between the drilling rigs and the trucks that go in and out of the area. There are air quality issues, too.

The debate

With all the different aspects of the industry, there will be a lot to discuss during Friday’s debate. Panelists will also interact with audience members to address their concerns.

“This part of the state, folks in Lima and Findlay and Ada and Kenton might be interested in knowing what’s going on in this area of natural resources,” McClough said.

The Ohio Association of Economists and Political Scientists, which plays host the panel during its annual meeting, is an organization of economist and political scientists, as well as undergraduate and graduate students from across Ohio who work to produce and disseminate research relating to the state economy and politics.

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