Not all observers are filled with eager anticipation regarding a potential economic boom from exploration of Marcellus and Utica shale formations, which are rich in natural gas and possible oil.
Some fear that the potential for environmental damage in Ohio and Pennsylvania increases along with the investment dollars now flowing. One such individual is John Stolz, professor of biology and director of the center of environmental education and research at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
"There are a plethora of issues that are involved," Stolz said, saying that water use and disposal, well placement and well encasement are all areas of concern. The largest concerns involve hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which uses large amounts of water, which then must be properly disposed.
He said some Pennsylvania residents are experiencing problems with drinking water. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, those problems could occur if a gas well is not properly cased to protect the aquifer or if production water is improperly dumped.
"Usually that occurs in rural areas where people are dependent on well water and the aquifer for drinking water," Stolz said.
During fracking, large amounts of water are pumped into a newly drilled well at high pressure to open up seams that allow a greater amount of natural gas to be extracted, an official with Haliburton, a leading fracking company, said.
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Warren City Council has scheduled a special session meeting Wednesday on "entering into contract(s) for exploration of oil and gas at the real property owned by the City of Warren referred to as 'Avalon South Golf Course.'"
Brookfield trustees will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to discuss the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
Robert Myers, Ph.D., of Lock Haven university, will speak on the environmental dangers of hydro-fracking the Marcellus Shale. Talks will be 10 a.m. Saturday in Channing Hall at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown, and 3 p.m. Saturday at the Wick Park Pavilion.
The natural gas industry believes a huge reserve sits trapped in the mile-deep Marcellus shale, a massive rock formation that stretches beneath Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and other states. Tapping it can require an unconventional horizontal drilling method as well as hydraulic fracturing. Also known as fracking, that process relies on water drawn from area sources that's mixed with chemicals and sand and then pumped into wells to crack the rock.
Ohio Department of Natural Resource officials maintain that the fracking process, if the well is encased to prevent contact with the aquifer, or water table, is safe. Also, an ODNR spokesperson said Ohio's method of water disposal - which involves injecting contaminated water deep into the earth - is environmentally sound. The permitting process involves site inspection and a review of procedural operations, according to an ODNR spokesperson. It takes about three weeks to grant permit approval.
Last month, West Virginia regulators filed an emergency rule that would temporarily require Marcellus shale natural gas drillers to detail how they will protect area land, manage the large volumes of water involved, respond to accidents, and notify the public in advance of operations.
The rule is meant to provide some regulatory oversight while a special legislative committee attempts to craft permanent and more wide-ranging rules for Marcellus drilling. With the industry at odds with environmental and surface rights groups over what those rules should say, a compromise bill eluded lawmakers during the year's regular session.
West Virginia residents argue, however, that the order could have gone farther but didn't. Some residents allege they were forced out of their homes with health problems soon after drilling began nearby.
The state of New Jersey also recently placed a moratorium on Marcellus or Utica shale drilling in that state.
In Trumbull County, Jodi Stoyak, Liberty township trustee, said the issue is on her radar because many township residents rely on drinking water from the aquifer.
"Once water wells are contaminated, there is no recourse," she said.
She said, however, she does not entirely oppose drilling, as long as it is thoroughly monitored.
"It is my personal opinion that with the proper regulations in place and enough inspectors to oversee the process of gas drilling, Ohio gas production could bring about significant economic benefits in an environmentally safe way," she said.
Stolz believes that environmental impact could be abated.
"We always talk about trade-off and compromise," he said. "In principle it can be done with minimum impact."
However, Stolz said current coordination is not well enough established to make sure that "minimum impact" occurs.
Many companies are involved in each well. Typically, separate companies are responsible for drilling, fracking, well head services and pipeline installation. If coordination among those companies is compromise, contamination is likely to occur, Stolz said.
Also, he said land owners are likely to consider the payout and royalty amounts in the lease agreement, but are less likely to compare companies environmental track records.
"There are some good operators and some not so good operators," Stolz said. "Because of the emphasis on the financial gains, people often don't look at which company will minimize their footprint and use the industries best environmental practices."
Stolz advised residents interested in leasing land to gas exploration companies review environmental histories. He said he has been in contact with some Pennsylvania land owners whose property has been negatively affected beyond the fiscal gain realized from the well.
His other advice: Hire a lawyer, and have well, spring and stream water tested before drilling takes place. Data from such tests could serve as a baseline of water quality if later problems occur.
"If quality and quantity of water is disturbed, without prior testing the companies can always say they were not responsible or it was a pre-existing problem," Stolz said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.