What the Frack?

Energy & Resources

By Nishant Patel

“Fracking” sounds like a word we use when we don't want to swear in front of our children. But, in the oil and gas world, this is industry lingo for hydraulic fracturing, and “fracking” is a very hot topic in Ohio and the surrounding areas. Hydraulic fracturing is the highly technical process of creating fractures in an underground rock formation. The process involves forcing highly pressurized liquid into previously drilled holes in order to create cracks in the rock, thereby releasing pockets of natural gas. The pressure of the liquid helps to force open the fracture and extend it through the rock formation. As a result of this process, extraction rates can be increased in order to recover more natural gas and other natural resources from reserves far below the earth’s surface. With the recent interest in natural gas reserves (i.e., the Marcellus and Utica shale formations) located beneath Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the topic of safe, issues surrounding effective natural gas extraction have quickly gained the attention of a variety of stakeholders in the industry, community and government.

On August 17, 2011, the Columbus Metropolitan Club (CMC) hosted a panel discussion on the implications of gas drilling. The panel included a range of industry experts including representatives from the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, Ohio State University, the Ohio Environmental Council and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Highlights of the discussion included representatives addressing and debating a variety of issues including:

• Economic benefits such as job creation, from the discovery of new natural gas reserves;
• Benefits from the advancment of drilling technology;
• Social responsibility on the part of the oil and gas industry to properly plug drillholes and treat any groundwater contamination that might have occurred as a by-product of drilling activities;
• The impact of drilling on the community and the environment; and,
• The effectiveness of recent federal and state legislation, such as Ohio Senate Bill 165, to ensure safety and manage risks for all stakeholders.

In listening to the perspectives of the various panel members, one thing became very clear: in order to survive and flourish in Ohio, the oil and gas industry will need to address and resolve extremely complex issues such as proper drilling procedures, the prevention and mitigation of groundwater contamination, the creation of jobs and many other issues. However, while it does not appear that these issues can be resolved immediately, discussions such as the one hosted by the CMC give the various stakeholders a forum to voice their concerns and find ways to work together to ensure a positive outcome for Ohio and the oil and gas industry.

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