Speakers discuss fracking, gas drilling

PARKERSBURG – The safety of fracking and items that might be included in a lease contract from a company wanting to drill on someone’s property for natural gas were discussed at a meeting Tuesday in Parkersburg.

About 70 people attended an educational meeting at the Parkersburg City Building sponsored by the West Virginia University Extension Service on Utica Oil and Gas leasing.

The featured speakers were Robert Chase, professor and chairman of the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Geology at Marietta College, and Peggy Kirk Hall, director of the Agricultural and Rural Law Program at The Ohio State University.

A lot of discussion has occurred recently regarding developing the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposit. The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation 5,000-8,000 feet below the surface. It covers 95,000 square miles in parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland and New York.

It is considered the largest natural gas field in the continental United States with an estimated 489 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The Utica Shale is primarily under Ohio with the primary location for drilling extending from the border to the center of the state. The Utica Shale, which covers around 14,000 square miles, or 10 million acres, is deeper than the Marcellus Shale.

”Things are looking very bright in Ohio in regard to the Utica Shale,” Chase said. ”Things are heading this way.”

One Utica Shale well has been drilled in Washington County.

”We don’t have a lot of data yet and we don’t have a lot of data coming across the river into West Virginia,” Chase said.

There has been more activity in the Utica Shale deposit north of Washington County, he said.

Major gas companies have been looking to develop the Marcellus and Utica Shale deposits.

”These aren’t the little mom and pop operations; these are some of the biggest companies in the United States and the world, companies like Chevron,” Chase said.

In 2011, 460 horzontal wells were drilled in Ohio.

There are 498 Utica wells that had permits issued, 208 that have been drilled and 45 that are producing at this time, Chase said.

The infrastructure is not in place to handle more production, he said. Many wells are exploratory to see if it would be worth the investment to begin production, Chase said.

Chase addressed concerns people have had about fracking: the use of sand, water and chemicals injected at high pressures to blast open shale rock and release the trapped gas inside.

”Hydraulic fracking is not this demonic process people have made it out to be,” Chase said. ”It is not a new process. We have been using it in Ohio since 1952.”

Over the last 100 years, more than 200,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled and are in production in Ohio. Gas has ended up in water a number of times during that period, he said.

”Just because someone has gas coming out of their water faucet doesn’t mean it is coming from fracking,” Chase said.

Many fracking operations occur hundreds of feet below the fresh water threshold and wells are designed with layers of protection built in to protect the groundwater, he said.

”You can frack responsibly if you practice proper earth-control methods,” Chase said with a laugh.

Hall talked about terms of a lease, time frames, exploratory periods versus production periods, payment terms, and how property damage might be handled. Hall discussed things people may see in a lease agreement offered from a company wanting to drill on property.

”Many leases are written in favor of the party presenting the lease,” Hall said.

Many people feel they either have to take what is presented to them or pass on it. In many instances verbal commitments are made that need to be spelled out in a lease, Hall said.

”Leases can be negotiated,” Hall said. ”Anything agreed to verbally needs to be put on paper or it is not legally enforceable.”