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.

Here’s a list holiday highway construction zones

Here's a list holiday highway construction zonesYou are far more likely to be involved in a crash the evening before Thanksgiving and the Sunday evening after, according to an Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) analysis of Thanksgiving weekend crash data.

The study says vehicular crashes happen more often on those days because more people are traveling for the holiday weekend.

Traffic volumes typically spike nearly 70 percent in Ohio over the five-day holiday travel weekend, said a news release from ODOT.

Last year, Ohio had 3,229 collisions starting Thanksgiving eve through the Sunday evening after the holiday, with 83 injuries and 16 fatalities. The total crashes for the holiday in 2010 rose from the 2009 total.

“Notably, when looking at the total collisions during Thanksgivings from 2006 to 2010, more than half were caused by driver behavior, such as becoming distracted or following too closely,” said ODOT Director Jerry Wray.

To reduce injuries and fatalities, ODOT advises travelers to wear seat belts, leave plenty of room between vehicles, allow extra time for traffic delays, and plan ahead.

Visit www.BuckeyeTraffic.org for up-to-the-minute information and a user-friendly map showing work zone locations, traffic congestion alerts, road closures, weather conditions, and Ohio Highway Patrol crash updates. The site updates all day, seven days a week.

Where are the construction projects?

Here is ODOT’s list of major highway construction projects with various lane restrictions across the state:

CENTRAL OHIO

• Interstate 270, Franklin County

Major reconstruction is underway on the southwest side of Franklin County. Three lanes will be maintained in each direction between Roberts Road and Broad Street. One of the three southbound lanes will be a contraflow lane.

For the I-270 project, the contraflow lane begins just south of Roberts and means the left lane of southbound traffic will cross over to the northbound side of the road. A portable barrier wall will separate the southbound contraflow lane and the three northbound lanes.

Motorists traveling southbound who wish to exit at I-70 or Broad Street should stay in the right two lanes of I-270 south. The contraflow lane can be used as an express lane for those who do not wish to exit at I-70 or Broad.

Two lanes will be maintained in each direction between Broad and U.S. Route 62. All ramps will remain open.

The speed limit through the work zone will be reduced to 55 mph so drivers should allow for extra time for their commute and remain alert since this is a seven mile construction zone.

• Interstate 670/71, Franklin County

Major construction is underway on Interstates 71 and 670 just north of downtown Columbus. Two lanes maintained on I-670 and I-71. The speed limit has been reduced to 45 mph through the zone. A number of exits to downtown are closed but you can still access I-670 and I-71. Detours are less than three miles and detour and re-routes are signed both on the interstates and city streets. Visit www.odot71670.org for more information.

 WESTERN OHIO

• Interstate 75, West Carrollton, Montgomery County

I-75 in the area of the East Central Avenue and Dixie Drive interchange is under renovation. Motorists will encounter a construction zone in both directions on I-75. Three lanes of traffic will remain open to motorists in each direction during holiday travel.

• Interstate 70, Clark County

I-70 between state Route 72 and U.S. Route 40 is undergoing a lane addition. Motorists will encounter construction zones in both directions on I-70. Two lanes of traffic will remain open to motorists in each direction during holiday travel.

• Interstate 75, Dayton, Montgomery County

I-75 from Main Street to Stanley Avenue and from Edwin C. Moses Blvd. to Fifth Street has construction zones due to the modernization of the interstate through the city of Dayton. Two lanes of traffic will remain open to motorists in each direction during holiday travel.

NORTHERN OHIO

• State Route 2, Lorain County

State Route 2 between Baumhart Road and Oak Point Road is restricted to one lane of traffic in each direction as part of a bridge repair project. All lanes of Route 2 are expected to reopen in late Nov. 2011.

 NORTHEASTERN OHIO

• Interstate 90, Lake County

Traffic on I-90 between Paine Road and the Ashtabula County line is shifted utilizing temporary crossovers.  One lane of I-90 eastbound traffic will be using I-90 westbound.

• State Route 2, Lake County

Several projects along state Route 2 are currently underway. Route 2 between Newell Street and the Grand River is restricted to one lane in each direction.

• Interstate 90, Cuyahoga County

The I-90 innerbelt bridge through downtown Cleveland remains open; however, multiple entrance and exit ramps along the downtown corridor are closed or restricted as crews work to construct a new westbound I-90 Innerbelt Bridge. Visit www.Innerbelt.org for more information.

NORTHWESTERN OHIO

• Interstate 475, Lucas County

Expect lane restrictions in both directions on I-475, from I-75 to Monroe Street for reconstruction.   Various ramps are closed within the project. Detours are posted.

• U.S. Route 24, Lucas and Henry counties

U.S. Route 24, from I-475 to Dutch Road is reduced to one lane in each direction. Various roads are closed in Lucas and Henry counties along the new alignment. Detours are posted.

SOUTHERN OHIO

• U.S. Route 52, Scioto County

U.S. 52 is reduced to one lane in each direction from Portsmouth/New Boston to state Route 522 at Wheelersburg, as well as between the state Route 253/Greenup Dam exit and the Lawrence County line for a series of four-lane resurfacing projects. Traffic is being maintained in a minimum of one, 11-foot lane in each direction.

 SOUTHWESTERN OHIO

• Interstate 74, Hamilton County

Replace and widen I-74 structure over state Route 128. While three lanes of traffic are open in each direction, two lanes of westbound I-74 are switched to the eastbound side of the work zone with one lane remaining on the westbound shoulder. While the permanent work zone restrictions remain in place, work is suspended over the holiday and there will be no additional lane closures.

Source: www.transportation.ohio.gov