The Akron Beacon Journal
Advances in drilling techniques have led to an energy boom based on tapping deep shale formations in Ohio and nearby states, creating jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Yet the boom also has brought controversy, New York State banning the use of hydraulic fracturing, which uses water, sand and toxic chemicals to break up rock formations to release oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids.
Last week came welcome news, frequent adversaries reaching a comprehensive agreement on voluntary standards for drilling in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, with the possibility of including New York and other East Coast states that have banned hydraulic fracturing. Some of the nationís largest oil companies and environmental groups announced the formation of a Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development to implement the agreement.
The worthy idea is for drilling and pipeline companies to seek the centerís certification by complying with its standards. The agreement, backed by such groups as the Environmental Defense Fund and Clean Air Task Force, takes a comprehensive approach, covering 15 standards to reduce the impact of air and water pollution. The standards cover, among other items, water recycling, to reduce the millions of gallons of water used per well; well casing design, to reduce the possibility of groundwater pollution; and wastewater disposals, to avoid contamination of surface water after drilling fluids come back up from the well.
Important now is getting more drillers and operators to join. So far, Shell and Chevron are on board, but not Chesapeake Energy, the largest producer in Ohio. Encouraging is that Chesapeake is part of a trade association that is supportive.
A proper balancing of interests on the centerís board also must be maintained. A 12-member panel will be in charge, equally representing energy, environmental and independent interests. Those most directly affected by hydraulic fracturing must be shown by the boardís actions that the rigorous, comprehensive standards are not only gaining widespread agreement around the conference table, but also are being carefully monitored in the well fields, where a single mistake can lead to widespread and lasting damage.