National shale conference set for Warren

WARREN – The use of millions of gallons of water in each hydraulically fractured deep natural gas and oil well, like those being drilled today in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, has countless environmental groups nationwide speaking out against the process.

But many representatives of those groups acknowledge there still is so much to learn on the topic that they are hoping to put their heads together to share resources and knowledge on environmental, health and economic issues related to drilling during a two-day national conference scheduled for this week in downtown Warren.

The conference, being called “Unconventional Shale Drilling: A fact-based health, environmental, economic and policy discussion,” is setting out to answer questions about what is known and what isn’t, along with what we need to know before moving forward. The conference is being organized by FracTracker, Buckeye Forest Council and FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio.

Ted Auch, Ph.D., Ohio’s program coordinator for FracTracker, one of the conference’s sponsors, is skeptical that hydraulic fracturing can be as successful – overall – as the oil and gas industry is portraying them.

Auch works in the Wean Foundation building’s FracTracker office. FracTracker is a non-profit organization with the goal of improving the public’s understanding of the impact of the global shale gas industry.

“It’s impossible for something to be as good as it’s being claimed to be,” Auch said during an interview in past months. “You want to eat cake all your life, but you have to eat some spinach. The industry is only portraying the cake part of the business.”

In the end, education and knowledge are the keys, Auch said, to understanding the pros and cons of the natural gas and oil drilling industry.

While Auch admits he has concerns about the process of hydraulic fracturing – which includes pumping at high pressure millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand into deep pockets in the earth causing the release of natural gas and oil – he said he is not setting out to deter the leasing of mineral rights.

“If you do or you don’t want to lease (your mineral rights), that’s not our concern,” he said. “Rather, our concern is to provide people with data so they can make their decisions. We want you to have data so when the landmen or the big energy company comes knocking on your door, you can make an educated decision. Our most important thing is to educate the land owner.

“The industry is moving fast. You need to take care of these things on the front end,” Auch said.

Lea Harper, a co-founder of Southeast Ohio Alliance to Save Our Water, who also is a coordinator for another conference sponsor, FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio group, echoed that sentiment.

“We are thinking once this water is taken and destroyed, some day we are going to want it back. Some day we are going to need it to grow our food. We are looking at some tough facts that we are going to have to study,” Harper said last week. “I think a lot of people are afraid of losing a chance at some cheap energy resources, but we are afraid of losing our water resources. Like my grandmother would say, hind sight is 20/20. We are trying to project forward what we know already.”

A lengthy agenda for the two-day shale drilling event includes 17 speakers and panelists addressing health, environmental, legal and legislative topics. They include costs and benefits for local communities; discussion of what should be known for fracking emergencies; potential health concerns from unconventional drilling; and a keynote presentation on day 1 about shale’s effect on Wall Street.

The keynote address is set to be delivered by Deborah Rogers, founder of the Energy Policy Forum, an educational forum that focuses on policy and financial issues on shale gas and renewable energy.