Drilling inspectors needed: Ohio looks to hire as shale play spreads to more counties

By Alison Grant, The Plain Dealer

Ohio_frackingOhio expects to triple the number of its oil and gas field inspectors, as horizontal drilling and fracking of shale formations intensifies and moves west across the state.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants to have 90 inspectors in the field by early next year, up from more than 30 today, spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans said.

State regulators are scrambling to keep up with Ohio’s latest energy push. They inspected 18 percent of the state’s 64,481 operating wells in 2011, leaving more than 50,000 wells unchecked.

“It’s almost a daunting task, but you gotta do the best you can,” said Gene Chini, district supervisor of the north region of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.

Ohio has inspected a smaller share of its wells since 2009 than its neighbor in the shale boom, Pennsylvania. Ohio’s inspections also lagged those in three other big oil- and gas-producing states — Texas, Colorado and Oklahoma, though funding shortfalls in Oklahoma have cut inspection rates almost in half in recent years.

By Kari Matsko’s reckoning, hundreds of thousands of Ohio oil and gas wells go without annual inspections. Matsko, director of the People’s Oil and Gas Collaborative, a Lake County grassroots group, said the state has more than 275,000 wells when adding in those that are plugged or abandoned.

Some of them pose contamination danger, she said, pointing to a finding by federal investigators that natural gas in two residential water wells in Medina could have migrated from an abandoned gas well.

“Wells require a lifetime of care and feeding,” said Matsko. “They never go away.”

But others contend the focus most keenly belongs on wells under construction. Meanwhile, many existing wells are scant producers.

“Keep in mind that many of the 64,000 wells are classified as marginal wells that may produce less than 10 barrels of oil a year,” said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, which does public outreach for the industry. “If you took those out of there, I think you would look at a very high rate of visits (inspections) for those that are producing significant volume.”

James Zehringer, ODNR director, said the agency has begun hiring and training additional inspectors to insure that shale wells are correctly built and inspected.

Natural gas and oil reserves in Ohio’s Utica shale formations have attracted a rush of major companies leasing rights to drill horizontal wells and then fracture, or “frack,” the rock to release the gas and oil. Sixteen horizontal wells have been drilled and completed; nine so far are in production.

Zehringer said money from permit fees for shale exploration and drilling will pay for new workers to help not only with inspections but also enforcement and administrative work.

“A strong regulatory staff at ODNR will enable inspectors to be present at every critical stage of well construction, insuring these sophisticated structures are built in a manner that protects both people and the ecosystem,” Zehringer said in a statement late Tuesday.

Chini, based in Uniontown in Summit County, said inspectors monitor new wells at critical points in their construction. They’re on site when the “conductor pipe” is installed in glacial drift or other loose surface material to keep gravelly layers from washing away and destabilizing the drilling rig.

They police installation of the “surface casing” that is cemented in place and protects groundwater. When available, they also monitor installation of the “production casing” that carries oil and gas out of the ground. And they monitor “frack jobs,” when water under intense pressure is forced into well bores to fracture the shale.

If there is a violation, they continue to visit a well until it’s corrected, Hetzel-Evans said.

Inspectors also check wells when they close and the well site is graded and reseeded.

The shale push has also turned a spotlight on some of Ohio’s old wells.

Landowners are asking inspectors to check wells that may have lapsed out of production. Property owners hope that happens because then they might be freed from old leases and able to negotiate new contracts that pay more per acre and have fatter production royalties.

“With the advent of this shale gas, the Utica play, we’re getting a lot of calls,” Chini said.

Stark County’s Uniontown first ‘fracking’ target

Story from WKYC Report

Ohio’s oil and gas energy rush is taking off and one Stark County community with a dark industrial history is listed to be one of the first fracking sites in our area.

Where the well is going and who is drilling it may surprise you.

WKYC Photojournalist Carl Bachtel brings you the story.

Uniontown is a small community nestled between Akron and Canton in Stark County.

It’s also the location of the federally monitored toxic waste site, the Industrial Excess Landfill.

Soon the property across busy Cleveland Avenue from the EPA Superfund site could have drilling.

Hydrofracture drilling is on its way and some residents who know the area’s environmental history are fearful.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources already approved the permit to allow Ohio Valley Energy System to drill right under the homes along Route 619.

Ohio Valley Energy has a history of residential drilling, most notably in Bainbridge Township in Geauga County. In December 2007, the results there were contaminated well water and exploding homes.

Industry videos posted on YouTube tout the safety and environmentally friendly aspects of gas drilling.

But one resident thinks the poor economy is clouding people’s judgement.

Police levy causes stir among Lake Township Residents

By Tracy Valentine | The Suburbanite
Police levy causes stir among residentsLAKE  Residents voiced their objections to the passage of Issue 6 in a Nov. 14 standing-room-only Lake Township Trustee meeting.Issue 6 is a 4.5 mill levy that expands the Uniontown Police Department to cover all of Lake Township, except Hartville.
“Why does the rest of Lake have to pay for it? We don’t need it,” resident Vito Spano said.Residents Donald Tuck and Ken Kurtz agreed. The men said they will going to have to pay for the increased taxes on fixed incomes.
The two major issues the residents also addressed regarding Issue 6 were the cost of the levy and the typographical error on the ballot.Other residents supported the levy.

“The voters decided this issue. So if you’re mad, that’s who you should be mad at,” LeeAnn Ramirez said.

Resident  Tim Davis wasn’t sure about the levy. “I don’t have the money either. But you don’t appreciate it until you need it. If the community is going to move forward it’s something we need.”

Lake Township’s attorney Charles Hall addressed the ballot typographical error. The ballot incorrectly stated the levy was at a rate of 45 cents per $1,000 per tax valuation.  The levy was actually for $4.50 per $1,000 per tax valuation. Hall explained that he and the Stark County Prosecutor’s Office, the Stark County Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State all failed to catch the mistake.

Resident Dan Robinson asked Hall if the error voided the ballot. Hall said it did not. He added that he reviewed all the material residents saw prior to the election, and that information was correct.

Hall also said the Ohio Supreme Court has previously upheld votes on other ballot issues.

Two residents asked about drilling approved on land near the former Industrial Excess Landfill (IEL).  Norma Bolt and Elizabeth Dixon asked several questions regarding the rules for hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The women wanted to know what requirement exist for fracking pipes, a possible holding pond and truck routes for the drilling companies.

Trustee President John Arnold said that the township does not have the expertise to answer her questions. He referred them to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency EPA.
Dixon asked if the Township could file an injunction to have drilling stopped next to the landfill.  Arnold arranged a meeting with Dixon and the Township attorney to discuss the possibility of a lawsuit.
Other business:
*Approved — the reappointment of Dr. Ronald Weisel III to the Board of Zoning Appeals for a five-year term.
* Accepted – The resignation of Harold Thompson, effective Dec. 31. Thompson is retiring after 32 years of service as an operator/laborer with the Road Department.

The next Lake Township Trustee meeting is scheduled for Monday Nov. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at 12360 Market Ave. N, Hartville.

Lake Township trustees meeting of Oct. 10

By Mary Anne Kannam The Youngstown Vindicator
Lake TYownshipKEY ACTION  Agreed to send letters to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the Ohio and U.S. EPAs to express their concerns about plans for an oil well on property near the Industrial Excess Landfill.

DISCUSSION  Trustees approved sending the letters after a crowd of about three dozen people attended the trustees meeting. Eight speakers spent about an hour expressing their concerns about the possibility of the well affecting water supplies and transmitting toxic substances from the landfill. Applause followed the remarks of the speakers multiple times. Some of the speakers said trustee Ellis Erb has a financial conflict of interest in the issue and should recuse himself from decisions involving the drilling of wells. Erb said he has not received any money from wells. He said after the meeting he is in negotiations for a possible lease. Those attending urged the trustees to vote to ban drilling on township-owned property. Trustee President John Arnold said the idea will be reviewed.

OTHER ACTION  

• Listened to three residents express their concerns about unused cars sitting on a property on Tippecanoe Avenue. Trustees said the township zoning administrator is examining the issue.

• Established a debit/credit card payment program for residents to pay bills exceeding $30, with a 3 percent processing fee.

• Passed a resolution supporting the proposed Stark County sales tax. Stark County Auditor Alan Harold and Stark County Common Pleas Judge Frank Forchione gave a presentation supporting the issue.

• Accepted the resignation of two reserve officers and hired two reserve officers for the Uniontown Police Department.

UP NEXT  Meet at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at Township Hall.

Uniontown residents rallying against drilling proposal

Uniontown LandfillResidents unhappy about plans for an oil well on property across the street from the Industrial Excess Landfill are planning to storm Monday’s township trustees meeting.

Ohio Valley Energy, based in Youngstown, has applied for a permit to drill a directional well on property in the 12600 block of Cleveland Avenue NW. The land is on the east side of Cleveland Avenue. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which approves drilling permits, is reviewing the company’s request.

Residents are concerned about the location of the proposed well, because it’s across the street from the closed landfill. They are worried that drilling and hydraulic fracturing — a process used to break up buried rock formations — might occur close to the landfill.

Uniontown resident Elizabeth Dixon said she believes the proposed well is too close to the landfill, as well as residences and schools. Dixon said she’s not opposed to drilling, but believes it must be done carefully. She plans to tell the trustees about her concerns.

“I don’t think this is right,” Dixon said of drilling in residential areas. “We don’t need to risk the safety of my family or the families around us.”

Trustee Ellis Erb said the three-member panel will listen to residents, but he doubts the trustees can do much.

“That’s not ours to do,” Erb said, noting that ODNR reviews and issues drilling permits. “We have no control over drilling.”

The proposed well hopes to tap the Clinton Sandstone formation, which usually produces natural gas and oil. There are nearly 3,000 natural gas and oil wells in Stark County, including several in the Uniontown area, and most tap the Clinton sandstone.

But while oil companies have been drilling in the area for more than 100 years, interest has increased as new companies try to access the Utica shale formation. Companies use horizontal drilling to reach the shale and hydraulic fracturing to break up rock and release trapped gas, oil and other hydrocarbons. Hydraulic fracturing involves forcing a slurry of water, sand and chemicals into the well to break up the shale.

Horizontal wells are much larger than the directional and vertical wells that have been drilled here. The hydraulic fracturing process for a horizontal well uses about 5 million gallons on fluid, compared with less than 300,000 gallons used in a traditional well.

If Ohio Valley Energy receives the permit, the company hopes to begin drilling later this year or early next year, spokesman Ben Funderberg said. The well will be more than 4,000 feet deep and directed south. It will be more than 500 feet from the road.

The company operates 450 wells in northeastern Ohio, including some in Stark County. It also holds interest in another 500 Ohio wells.

Ohio shale gas worth billions of dollars and 200,000 jobs

By John Funk, The Plain Dealer

 

Ohio shale gas CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio’s natural gas and oil reserves are a multibillion-dollar bonanza that could create more than 204,500 jobs in just four years, an industry group said Tuesday

The economic impact study, released on the eve of Gov. John Kasich’s energy summit, attributed the jobs to leasing, royalties, exploration, drilling, production and pipeline construction to produce gas and petroleum from Utica shale, a rock buried more than a mile and a half underground.

The summit is designed to open discussions about Ohio’s use of coal, natural gas and renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind as well as state-mandated energy efficiency rules.

Kasich has made it clear he thinks the state should allow shale gas development, if only because of its enormous potential for economic development.

His administration has insisted it does not oppose renewable energy technologies, currently more expensive that traditional power plants. At the same time, the administration holds that energy costs in the state must be kept as low as possible.

Shale gas production involves drilling deep wells and one or more horizontal shafts from each vertical well. By pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under pressure into the horizontal borings, producers fracture the shale, releasing the gas and oil, which is then produced through the vertical well.

Environmentalists criticize the technology, arguing that the risk of methane infiltrating underground water reservoirs must be figured out before the big energy corporations run rough-shod through the state.

Jack Shaner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Council, said Ohio is not ready for the onslaught that Big Oil and Gas is preparing.

Despite the state’s recent passage of a law requiring tougher drilling standards, the administration is still drawing up the actual regulations that drillers must abide, he said.

Shaner said the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is still strengthening air quality standards for oil and gas fields, regulations that will be needed to combat air pollution if the boom envisioned actually happens.

“We could turn the Ohio Valley into Ozone Alley,” Shaner said, explaining that the emissions would come directly from the hydrocarbon themselves.

The new jobs study, contained in a 92-page economic impact analysis, was prepared by economic research company Kleinhenze & Associates of Cleveland for the Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Association.

The conclusions are based on propriety information obtained from large gas and oil corporations that jockeyed for months to lease mineral rights from rural land owners. Marietta College, Ohio State University, Central Ohio Technical College and Zane State College contributed to the data analysis.

Among the study’s main conclusions:

• Over the next five years, oil and gas producers are expected to spend $34 billion in exploration and development, pipelines, royalty payments to landowners and other leasing expenditures.

• New jobs would start slowly — 4,614 jobs this year, increasing to 22,297 next year — and then mushroom by tens of thousands from 2013 through 2015, culminating at an estimated 204,520 jobs by 2015.

• Wages, salaries and personal income attributable to the production would soar to an estimated $12 billion per year, including $1.6 billion in royalties, by 2015.

• Annual tax revenues, including income, property, commercial activity and “severance” taxes or royalties tied to the production would total $478.9 million by 2015.

The Ohio Environmental Council, which has advocated a go-slow approach to shale gas, claims there is at least one U.S. Department of Energy study showing that methane from deep shale gas has migrated into water wells.

The group pointed Tuesday to another study that claims Ohio is already the beneficiary of jobs attributed to renewable energy and energy efficiency manufacturing.

The “Clean Economy” study, released in the spring, was done by the Brookings Institution with help from Battelle, the sponsor of this week’s summit. The study claimed 105,306 Ohio jobs are attributable to new technologies. But that study also included mass transit jobs.

The Environmental Council has been part of an industry group that wants state regulators to allow industry to generate power from waste heat, a practice Ohio’s utilities have resisted.

In another study done by industry and the council, the group estimated Ohio industries could generate 11 billion watts of power from waste heat, enough power to allow Ohio to export electricity.

The Kasich administration has been enthusiastic about this kind of power generation.

 

History of oil, gas drilling in Lake Township runs deep

By Edd Pritchard
In a farm field on the east side of Maplegrove Avenue NE sits DS Yoder 4, an oil well that has been producing for more than 100 years.

It’s not Stark County’s oldest well. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources gives that honor to the “Frank Hartzell 1” well, which reached its total depth on Aug. 12, 1900. It was plugged and abandoned in August 1929.

Records show that DS Yoder 4 dates to Jan. 1, 1908, as do several other wells with the name “Yoder” in southeast Nimishillen Township. State officials have designated DS Yoder 4 as being the oldest productive well in the county. It pulls from the Berea sandstone formation, although state records don’t report the well’s depth.

LONG HISTORY

Stark is among the 76 Ohio counties where oil or natural gas have been found. Ohio’s oldest commercial oil well dates to 1860 in Washington County, while natural gas wells have been producing since 1884.

The Ohio Oil and Gas Association notes that Ohio lays claim to the first discovery of oil, from a drilled well in 1814, when a saltwater well found oil 475 feet underground in Noble County.

With that history, it’s not surprising that oil companies once again are scouring the state in search of oil and natural gas. This time, they hope to tap the Utica and Marcellus shale formations.

The uptick has raised environmental concerns about a process used — hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking — to release oil and gas from the rock formations. But oil producers say fracking has been successful for decades.

Nearly 6,500 wells have been drilled through the years in Stark County and about 3,000 of those wells continue to produce oil and natural gas, said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. Most of the wells are in the Clinton sandstone formation, which lies about 4,600 feet deep, between the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

About 90 percent of the wells drilled into Clinton sandstone are commercially successful. The wells are known for producing both oil and gas, sometimes in combination, said William G. Williams, a lawyer with Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty who has specialized in the oil and gas business.

The East Canton Oil Field, which stretches from Lake Township in a relatively straight line south toward Uhrichsville, was discovered in 1947 and taps the Clinton sandstone. Although wells in the area remain productive, state officials believe the field can generate more oil and gas through a secondary recovery technique that injects carbon dioxide into the rock formation.

Local companies — Belden & Blake, MB Operating and Lomak — drilled many of the Clinton wells. Through the years, the properties and companies have changed hands. Now, many of the wells are owned by EnerVest, a Houston-based company with a regional office north of Hartville in Portage County.

RENEWED INTEREST

EnerVest and Chesapeake Energy are two of the companies making the initial push to drill the Utica shale formation in eastern Ohio.

The nature of the rock formations prevented companies from drilling many shale wells in the past. Shale formations are thin bands of rock. While geologists have known the formations contain oil and gas, the narrow bands usually weren’t productive enough for commercial use, said Doug Gonzalez, president of GonzOil, a gas exploration company based in Jackson Township.

“We always knew there was a lot of potential in shale,” said Gonzalez, a geologist who found himself working in the oil industry after graduating from Kent State University in the early 1980s.

During the past 15-20 years, developments in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have allowed access to shale rock formations. That has spurred the renewed interest in drilling Stark County’s oil and natural gas fields.

Drillers can reach a large section of shale rock by bending and drilling sideways. Hydraulic fracturing — a process where a slurry of water, chemicals and sand is injected into a well under high pressure — is used to break the shale and release the oil and gas.

TECHNIQUE NOT NEW

But even horizontal drilling is “old news” in some Stark County oil and gas circles. The 1989 annual report for the former Belden & Blake describes horizontal drilling and notes the potential to penetrate a larger section of a producing zone.

Belden & Blake also is credited with doing some of the first hydraulic fracturing of wells in Ohio.

A September 1954 article in the Hartville News featured photographs of Belden & Blake workers who were hydraulic fracturing a well on farm southeast of Hartville. The article states that hydraulic fracturing was first used in West Texas oil fields in 1948, and credits Belden & Blake for fracking the first Appalachian-area well near East Sparta in July 1952.

The articles describes a different process for hydraulic fracturing. A mixture of oil and sand was being pumped into the well, which was 4,658 feet deep, to crack the Clinton sandstone formation and release more oil and gas.

‘SHOOT THE WELL’

While hydraulic fracturing has caused concern for some environmentalists, industry officials contend it’s an improvement over earlier methods.

Reda, of the Ohio energy education program, said dynamite and nitroglycerin were used to stimulate wells in early years. Explosives were dropped down the well to break the rock, which led to the phrase “shoot the well,” she said.

Past drilling helped Stark County’s economy through the years, Williams said.

Landowners were paid to lease mineral rights and collected royalties. Entrepreneurs launched businesses drilling wells or serving the drilling companies. The industry created jobs.

It’s happened in cycles with each oil discovery, and it’s beginning again.

Last summer, when companies began asking to lease mineral rights, most offered about $800 per acre and royalties of 8 percent. The lease prices and royalties have been climbing, and more large companies are entering the market, Williams said. Lease rights are nearing $5,000 per acre in some Ohio counties.

Williams estimates that mineral rights of some sort have been leased on 95 percent of the land in Stark County. Much of that is because of the land leased years ago during earlier oil booms. Also there is large section of Jackson Township — drilled during the 1930s — that now serves as a natural gas storage area of Dominion East Ohio Gas.