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ODNR Says Shale Drilling Industry Coming Of Age

The natural gas boom is still pushing an industry that’s growing in Ohio -- not only attracting oil and gas companies but other businesses that benefit from shale production. Ohio’s top leaders say the infrastructure around the shale play continues to improve. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Ohio’s drilling industry is starting to hit its stride when it comes to producing natural gas from the Utica shale, according to the latest report from the state department that regulates the industry. In its annual State of the Play report, ODNR says production nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013. Leaders say a big reason for this is the maturing industry.

t’s been about four years since companies started to horizontally drill on the Utica shale. T his process includes hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. ODNR’s Oil and Gas Chief Rick Simmers says the ramp up in production is partly due to the companies learning more about the nature of the shale over time.

For example, the average time it takes to drill a well has been cut in half because companies are more familiar with the territory.

Simmers: “They’re also learning how to refine or fine-tune the completion. In other words how do they draw the oil and gas out of the well effectively and economically so as those technologies improve and those modifications to the process improve the production of oil and gas out of the wells will increase.”

ODNR Director Jim Zehringer says the spike in production means natural gas is an even more reliable energy resource now.

Zehringer: “Because of the Utica shale Ohio now produces more than half the natural gas we need to keep our homes warm during that cold winter that Rick just mentioned. Not only are we becoming more energy independent as a nation we are becoming more energy dependent as a state.”

Leaders used the event as an opportunity to tout Ohio as a business-friendly environment for other gas-related companies that may consider moving to the state. But Zehringer said the state will enforce regulations when needed.

Zehringer: “If an operation must be stopped or a company suspended in order to protect Ohioans and our environment we have and we will take the right steps necessary to do so.”

A recent example of this is when—after a series of small earthquakes in Mahoning County—ODNR suspended drilling in a certain area and implemented new rules to monitor possible seismic activity.

Nathan Johnson, an attorney with the Ohio Environmental Council, believes the state could be doing more to toughen-up regulation.

Johnson: “Across the board there are so many areas that could be approved. The stringency of Class II injection wells—certainly the solid waste that is now being beneficially used but no testing or tracking in most cases.”

Johnson adds that a recent fracking well fire that killed a number of wildlife in Monroe County is an example of why the state should revise its setback regulations from streams. 

The creation of new rules and regulations is actually good for attracting business, according to the former director of the state’s regulation over the industry. David Mustine is now with Gov. John Kasich’s jobs creating entity JobsOhio, working with companies that may want to move to Ohio and set up businesses that make use of the produced natural gas.

Mustine: “Downstream companies before they make major investment in our state—they want to make sure we have a healthy business climate—and to have a healthy business climate we have to have responsible regulation and the companies expect that.”

Looking to the future of shale gas development in Ohio—Zehringer says ODNR will continue to revise laws in order to strengthen its protection of ground water.

Zehringer: “All our agencies will work every day together to make sure oil and gas development does not harm our citizens or our environment.”

ODNR officials added that the department continues to work on its website to improve the way the public can research drilling information and make it user-friendly.  

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