Scott Streater, E&E reporter
The latest battle in the ongoing public relations war over hydraulic fracturing is being waged in Ohio, where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a campaign extolling the economic virtues of oil and natural gas drilling in a state that is undergoing a shale gas boom.
The Ohio effort launched this week is the first part of a national "Shale Works for US" campaign spearheaded by the Institute for 21st Century Energy, the chamber's energy policy arm. The chamber plans to launch the second phase of the campaign today in Pennsylvania and next week in West Virginia, said Matt Letourneau, a spokesman for the chamber's Energy Institute.
A chief goal of the Ohio campaign -- which will likely use television ads and outreach efforts to local business and community groups -- is to counter the drumbeat of public concern over the potential air- and water-quality impacts of shale gas development associated with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The campaign will instead promote the fact that tapping the Marcellus Shale has the potential to create more than 65,000 jobs and pump nearly $5 billion into the state's economy.
"Shale energy has the potential to be an economic game changer for America and for Ohio," Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Energy Institute, said in a statement. "Ohioans are already beginning to see the benefits of shale development, but much more shale energy sits below the surface. The Shale Works for US campaign will help educate the public and the business community and demonstrate the ways in which increased shale production will benefit communities across the Buckeye state."
The effort in Ohio follows the chamber's announcement Tuesday that it was launching a series of television advertisements targeting four key Senate races in New Mexico, North Dakota, Nevada and Hawaii. The ads focus on the candidates' positions on economic growth and job creation issues, most notably domestic energy production (Greenwire, July 17).
The chamber has touted the campaigns as part of its "unprecedented voter education efforts" leading up to the November elections and focusing on a wide array of pro-business issues, including domestic energy development -- an issue that's likely to shape a lot of close election races nationwide.
Big potential, lingering concern
The Ohio campaign comes at a time when energy developers are beginning to seek oil and gas leasing rights on the eastern side of the state in an effort to tap shale gas reserves in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. Development of the formations has concentrated to date in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.
Gas leases in some Ohio counties leapt fourfold last year over the year before. And while only four wells got into production last year, by 2014 nearly 2,000 wells will have been drilled, according to a recent study headed by Cleveland State University researchers (EnergyWire, March 13).
The entire state seems fixated on the shale gas boom. Across a broad supply chain -- steel making, trucking, industrial controls, drilling supplies and wastewater treatment -- gas development is stimulating growth after decades of plant closings that made Ohio a tattered landmark of the Rust Belt.
But one thing that could slow it down is public concern about fracking, the controversial technique of injecting water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to create fissures in tight rock formations and allow gas and oil to flow freely to the surface. The technique, combined with advances in horizontal drilling, has opened up huge oil and gas reserves from Pennsylvania to Texas that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Public concerns about fracking have centered on the chemicals used in the process and whether these chemicals can contaminate drinking water supplies. Ohio and other leading shale-gas-producing states require disclosure in different forms but allow drillers to claim trade secret protection for chemicals they consider proprietary.
There are also public concerns that disposal wells for shale drilling fluid contributed to a series of earthquakes in the Midwest last year.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed an executive order last week authorizing the state's oil and gas agency to immediately enforce tighter rules for underground injection wells used to dispose of fluid used in shale drilling (EnergyWire, July 12).
Under the new rules, regulators can order seismicity tests before a well is drilled and specify the volume and pressure of fluids injected. Once the well is operating, the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management can monitor it and force it to shut off.
Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Columbus-based Ohio Environmental Council, said the U.S. Chamber is well-qualified to discuss the beneficial economic impacts of oil and gas drilling.
But there's another side to the story, Shaner said, and he pointed to a report released last year by an Energy Department advisory subcommittee that explored ways to improve safety and environmental protection in shale gas production.
The advisory panel concluded in the report that "if action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country -- perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades -- there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences and a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity."
"This is a highly charged debate. The economy is front and center, but so, too, is the environment," Shaner said. "Our goal is the safe and responsible development of this resource. Yes, there are significant potential economic benefits, but the last thing anybody needs is to have those benefits undercut by fundamental [concerns about] public health and safety, and air and water quality. So let's do it right, and we're not convinced the rules and regulations, and even the science, are there yet."
But Linda Woggon, executive director of the Ohio Shale Coalition, argues that technology has advanced to the point that development of shale gas reserves can be done in an "environmentally responsible way."
"Oil and natural gas production in Ohio is not new, but recent advances in technology will allow for vast quantities of recently discovered shale energy to be produced in a safe, environmentally responsible way," Woggon said in a statement. "This production will not only create jobs for Ohioans, but generate new revenues for localities throughout our state, meaning more money for education and public safety and lower residential property taxes."
Streater writes from Colorado Springs, Colo.