Currently there are 40 horizontally-fractured natural gas wells in Ohio — and 4,000 more expected in the next four years.
Even though eastern Ohio is where most of the natural gas drilling activity is now taking place, this presents an economic opportunity for Northwest Ohio businesses.
Gary Thompson of JobsOhio says the natural gas drilling can mean opportunities for construction firms, material testing firms, engineering firms, and “probably development on the residential and commercial side of things as well.”
“The JobsOhio network partners, which in Northwest Ohio is the Regional Growth Partnership, and in southeastern Ohio is the Appalachian Business Council, we’re working together to try and introduce folks in Northwest Ohio that have oil and gas expertise to people that need that expertise in southeastern Ohio,” Thompson said.
For five years, Thompson was director of the Oregon Economic Development Foundation, which is in the process of searching for a replacement. On Sept. 1, Thompson began his transition to the Regional Growth Partnership where he became director of JobsOhio for the Northwest Ohio region.
JobsOhio is a private economic development agency formed by the state that is taking over responsibilities of the Department of Economic Development. Thompson’s role is to coordinate JobsOhio functions for 19 Northwest Ohio counties.
Thompson said in late January he should have a better idea which businesses are seizing the opportunity to become partners in Southeast Ohio natural gas drilling operations.
“There are probably five businesses that have been to two meetings thus far. We are planning a trip to southeastern Ohio to see if we can find them some actual real opportunities on the ground. They are what I call petroleum-service, petroleum-support businesses,” Thompson added.
“I think they are aggressively looking into this, especially the ones where it is kind of in their operating competency, if you will. The other side is that the folks in Appalachia are welcoming it as well.”
Thompson says as of right now he has no idea in dollars “what the size of the pie is.” He says he does not expect local businesses to relocate in Southeast Ohio.
“One of the things that we are advocating for is that businesses that want to go to Appalachia to set up is for them to make a commitment to Southeast Ohio. We’re not just looking for them to go there and live in a hotel and then come home. They make a commitment, they stay there, and they actually improve the local economy. It means employment for folks in Appalachia, and increased profit for companies in Northwest Ohio,” Thompson said.
Environmental groups say more must be done to ensure that Ohio does not become the next "frontier of fracking." Horizontal hydraulic fracturing, the drilling method commonly known as "fracking," involves injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals into deep underground wells to break up rock and release natural gas.
While supporters say it provides a substantial source of energy, some of the chemicals are toxic and the process is hazardous to the environment, says Matt Trokan, water conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club Ohio Chapter.
"Fracking is very different than conventional drilling and it threatens our water and our air, particularly the disposal of waste water from the fracking activities," Trokan said.
Natural gas companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used in fracking, and Trokan says the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency cannot properly monitor all the horizontal drilling and wastewater disposal sites. His group and others insist more research is needed, along with better policies and regulations to ensure public and environmental health.
Supporters say the deep drilling and lined well shafts provide ample protection for groundwater. They claim there is no substantiated evidence of any problems, and that the economic potential for Ohio outweighs any potential environmental risk.
Trokan says it's of statewide concern because it affects watersheds across the state.
"Right now, the waste water is going into disposal wells, which are located throughout Ohio, and a lot of people get their drinking water from the Ohio River and Lake Erie, which can be affected by fracking — not just in Ohio, but by other states as well."
Trokan says the Sierra Club is raising public awareness of the drilling method and encouraging citizens to monitor their own water to detect changes in quality. Training sessions with free water monitoring kits are being held.
More information is online at ohiosierrclub.org.
(Mary Kuhlman writes for Ohio News Connection)