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Need common sense with shale and environment

December 4, 2011
Salem News

Ohio already has some of the strongest oil and gas drilling regulations in the nation, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. But new technologies and the ongoing gas drilling boom have prompted state officials to re-examine their rules. Recommendations for new ones should be in place early next year.

As officials in other states could have warned their counterparts in Ohio, that sets up a confrontation between environmentalists and the drilling industry. It already has begun in Ohio, with the issue of hydraulic fracturing of wells and deep well injection of frac fluid at the dispute's center.

Reasonable concerns, such as how large amounts of fluid used in ''fracking'' will be disposed and whether deep well injections cause earth tremors, have been raised. But ridiculous solutions, such as moratoriums on all drilling operations and human barricades at an injection site, have surfaced to derail meaningful public discourse.

It is possible for the state to have regulations that safeguard the public while keeping Ohio in a competitive position to enjoy the drilling boom's benefits. That should be the goal.

We won't get there if fringe zealots like State Rep. Bob Hagan act irresponsibly. Soon after ODNR failed to find any connection between injection wells and earthquakes, a 2.1-magnitude tremor struck Youngstown. Hagan's knee-jerk, publicity-seeking reaction was to immediately call for a statewide moratorium on all drilling operations.

Meanwhile, in the heart of his hometown, VAM USA announced a $57-million, 100-employee factory to support fracking businesses and Youngstown State University announced a shale gas technology program to produce students ready for the tsunami of jobs headed for this region.

Despite protestors assembling outside of a shale conference at the Covelli Centre, it seems Valley residents are finally starting to believe there is economic prosperity on the horizon. Six of the seven people arrested for blocking access at the injection well were from Cleveland, Allentown, Pa., Massachusetts, Washington state and California.

The VAM USA announcement comes while V&M Star continues work on a $650-million factory along the Girard / Youngstown border, U.S. Steel Corp. is investing $95 million on its Lorain plant and Timken Co. is spending $50 million on a Canton project, all for the shale play.

Granted, Hagan is probably not serious about a moratorium. Understandably, like any good politician, he seized an opportunity to play to his environmental supporters all the while knowing he won't, and can't, stand in the way of world-changing progress. Natural gas extraction through fracking holds the key to quelling global warming concerns and drastically altering U.S. defense by reducing or even eliminating dependence on Middle East oil.

Rather than call for a moratorium on fracking, Hagan should have seized the earthquake as an opportunity to promote Patriot Water in Warren. The company provides an alternative means of disposing frac water and stands ready to create more than a thousand jobs in the region, except its operation is hindered by state bureaucracy.

Both sides need to work together better to make sure we receive the benefits of shale gas while protecting the environment.



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