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Wednesday, Dec 17, 2014

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Faculty member Bernhard Debatin shares his concerns about fracking

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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A large audience listens to fracking discussions

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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Faculty member Ben Stuart addresses the audience during Tuesday's fracking forum

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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OHIO experts weigh in on fracking

Forum addresses potential leasing of University lands


Tuesday's public forum on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) offered Ohio University's campus community an opportunity for education and discussion on the potential leasing of mineral rights on state-owned lands.

Hosted by Ohio University's President's Advisory Council on Sustainability Planning (PACSP) and the Ecology and Energy Conservation Committee (EECC), the forum sought to gather input from the campus community on the fracking process. Feedback gathered from all six OHIO campuses will be included in a formal report to the Ohio University Board of Trustees at its April meeting, according to forum moderator Ben Stuart, an associate professor of civil engineering.

During the first half of the forum, panelists presented information on the hydraulic fracturing process and its legal, social, economic and environmental implications. The second half of the forum was a comment period, during which attendees conversed one-on-one with speakers and guests, while student volunteers compiled feedback.

Issues addressed included:

House Bill 133

Since 1985, the University's Board of Trustees has had sole authority to enter into leases and agreements with companies that would mine minerals, according to Nicolette Dioguardi, associate director of legal affairs at Ohio University. Dioguardi said HB 133 repeals that authority, creating a government-appointed commission to facilitate the leasing of state-owned land. The bill also establishes classifications of land that predetermine the potential for hydraulic fracturing.

Economic Implications

In his economic analysis, Matt Warnock, an attorney with Brickler & Eckler Attorneys, said to date there has been almost $3 billion of investment on the manufacturing side in Ohio, by companies such as V&M Star, U.S. Steel and Chesapeake Energy. "When you add on top of that the billions of dollars that have been spent on paying lease bonuses and royalties, there are billions and billions of dollars at stake in Ohio," he said.

Warnock pointed to a study by Dickinson State University in North Dakota, which examines fracking's impacts to housing and infrastructure, among other indicators. "This has the potential to touch virtually every business, every industry in Ohio … You name it, it's going to be touched," he said.

Geologic Indications

Recent maps from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicate that Athens is not in a particularly advantageous place for hydraulic fracturing – news that offers "some breathing space in terms of time," according to Greg Nadon, department chair of geological sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Nadon encouraged the public to utilize the expertise of OHIO's Geological Sciences Department in assessing various geological concerns related to hydraulic fracturing.

Safety Issues

Joe Adams, associate vice president for risk management and safety, addressed potential safety concerns in the areas of infrastructure, water supply, electricity, workplace safety, EMS support and regulatory oversight. "Fracking is a large-scale industrial operation. That's what it really boils down to," he said. "In any large-scale industrial operation, if adequate controls are in place, and if these controls are properly enforced, it can be conducted safely."

Environmental Concerns

Bernhard Debatin, director of tutorial studies in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, addressed potential impacts to the environment and human health. He stressed that it is wrong to focus only on catastrophes, as a degree of soil and water contamination occur during normal "failure-free" fracking processes. "This is a dangerous journey, and it has a lot of risks that we should consider carefully," Debatin said.

Water Safety

Natalie Kruse, assistant professor of environmental studies in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, addressed water use and contamination. According to Kruse, it takes between three and 10 million gallons of water to fracture a single well, but only about 25 percent of that water comes back to the surface freshwater environment – setting hydraulic fracturing apart from other high water use industries.

Kruse also addressed potential routes for frack fluids to contaminate ground water, pointing to Ohio's abundance of abandoned mines and abandoned oil and gas lines. "When we do a retrospective look at existing oil and gas lines over 20 to 30 years, about 50 percent of those casings are no longer sound," she said.

OHIO community members still have an opportunity to provide feedback on hydraulic fracturing through an online campus comment form. The survey will remain open until 8 a.m. Friday, March 30.