Fracking Operations Drawing Closer To Columbus

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The "Road to Riches" at the entrance of the Knox County drilling site. This is the closest fracking well to Columbus.(Photo: Tom Borgerding / WOSU)
The "Road to Riches" at the entrance of the Knox County drilling site. This is the closest fracking well to Columbus.(Photo: Tom Borgerding / WOSU)

Until recently, oil and gas hydraulic fracturing in Ohio shale deposits is taking place in the eastern part of the state. Now, a few oil and gas companies are moving their fracking operations west, closer to Columbus to look for potential riches.

The latest well is being drilled in an area less than an hour from Columbus.

Public records at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources show the shift in drilling activity in Ohio.

“We’re starting to see leasing activity come into Central Ohio,” said ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans.

Hetzel-Evans explains that revised geological maps of Ohio indicate oil and gas rich shale stretches further west than originally thought.

“Knox county for sure Morrow, and Marion headed into western Ohio,” Hetzel-Evans said.

On farmland, near the Licking County, Knox County border is a new exploratory well. Devon Energy of Oklahoma City is drilling down nearly 4-thousand feet.

The company hopes it hits natural gas and oil in what’s known as the Utica shale. Access to the well site is restricted. Workers and supply vendors have to check in with a Knox County sheriff deputy at the entrance to the well field.

In Utica, Lanny White says he’s only heard of the new drilling activity and seen it from a distance.

“I heard that, yes, my first reaction is what are they doing in this area?” White asked.

Evidently they think there might be some oil deep underground here.

“Well, uh, Good luck with that, I guess,” White said. “Well, I mean, I don’t like anybody from out of town coming around here. If anybody reaps the benefits I’d hope it would be somebody local.”

At the Duke-Duchess gas station at Routes 62 and 13, Utica construction worker Allen Keegan waits each morning for a ride to his jobsite outside Columbus. He’s noticed a change since shale drilling began.

“I’ve seen more people coming in to get gas for work in the morning. I think it will bring more people in. Hopefully, the people we’ve got here they’ll give them jobs first instead of bringing a bunch of people from out of town in,” Keegan said.

It’s too early to tell whether the gently rolling landscapes around Utica, Mount Vernon, and Johnstown will yield sufficient amounts of oil and gas to attract major development of the shale fields deep below. ODNR’s Hetzel-Evans said Devon and other companies are still exploring the potential resource.

“We actually have only had about a dozen wells come into production in the Utica shale area. That said we’ve had over 200 wells drilled. Many of those wells may not go beyond exploration,” Hetzel-Evans said.

But, Hetzel-Evans anticipates more drilling, especially in areas that skirt the northernmost Columbus suburbs. She explains that locating oil and gas deposits thousands of feet below ground is an inexact science.

“Geology is not constant. You can cross the street and the geology thousands of feet below the surface will have changed dramatically,” Hetzel said.

As drilling activities move closer to urban populations, Hetzel-Evans said companies face stricter standards to protect underground and surface drinking water supplies.

Devon Energy has a clause in its well permit to abandon the Knox County site if the well proves unproductive. Current ODNR records show no exploratory wells in Morrow, Marion, or other counties surrounding Columbus. But, the geologic map now shows potential oil and shale gas deposits as far west as the Franklin-Madison county line.

  • maflegle

    This news breaks my heart. I think we all will pay the price sometime soon. I believe it is profoundly arrogant to think “fracking” is OK. The short-term gain is not worth the long-term problems. We should all be reducing our consumption of natural resources instead of looking for more sources, ESPECIALLY when those sources require such drastic extraction methods.

    • Buster Bluth

      I think your position is one of profound ignorance.

  • MagEl7

    Knox county in central Ohio has an OUTSTANDING college (Kenyon College) we were prepared to pay for our youngest child to attend. But not only is there fracking in Knox county, Knox county is a major dumping ground for hazardous waste water trucked in from Pennsylvania fracking.

    If you don’t believe the health hazards of fracking see the Cornell University study about cows dropping dead and find some small newspaper articles about sick people near drilling wells because main stream news is afraid to tell the whole truth. Toxic chemicals are in the air and water. And look up the astonishing pounds of pressure per square inch the millions of gallons of hazardous waste water are putting down the “sturdy cement lined” pipes into the ground below. There are hundreds of thousands of fracking operations and this is a fast growing business. We are afraid to gamble on what’s going to happen in the next four years near Kenyon College.

    Even in Ohio with its “transparency laws” there are numerous toxic “trade secret” fracking chemicals exempt from disclosure. The government and oil companies can always claim there is no scientific proof that fracking causes disease or death, because the chemicals found in air, water, and dead animals cannot be matched to UNdisclosed fracking chemicals.

    I am not saying we shouldn’t take advantage of natural shale gas. But this business machine is far too big, too fast growing and the powers that be care FAR more about business than your health including the safety of the farm animal and crop food supply. Particularly sad is that pasture raised animals are most effected, for those of us trying to eat healthier for our families, and what’s left of our shrinking, clean, beautiful planet.