Shale energy development discussed

“All About Gas Wells” was a subject members of the GFWC/OFWC Wintersville Woman’s Club got some insight on at their March 21 meeting when two Ohio State University Extension agents were the program presenters.

Introduced by Marjean Sizemore, first vice president, were Steven Schumacher, OSU Extension educator, Belmont County, and Sarah Cross, OSU Extension educator for Jefferson and Harrison counties.

The local extension office is on Bantam Ridge Road, Wintersville, in a former school building.

Cross, a West Virginia native, is new to the area and began by telling club members about some of the programs that Extension offers, including a 50-hour master gardeners class with two objectives: to teach people about horticulture but also to recruit Extension volunteers. Club member Jeannie Barker is one 19 trainees in this round of the master gardener program.

Extension also has a “Farm to School” program in place at Stanton Elementary School where pupils are growing lettuce in an existing greenhouse with the lettuce served in the cafeteria. “They love the hands-on science,” Cross said of the program that brought an overwhelming positive response from the children.

Other program areas for Extension include 4-H, family nutrition, a beef cattle school and responding to all sorts of inquiries from all sorts of people on anything related to agricultural or natural resources.

And then there’s the oil and gas education side of Extension these days.

Cross said the oil and gas industry is “really booming” in Harrison County, while Jefferson County has one producing well.

The Extension agents are involved in oil and gas workshops that cover a variety of topics, including leasing land, taxes, environmental issues such as water quality and quantity and community challenges from environmental concerns to social implications.

An Extension agent for 29 years, Schumacher said he has been working a lot with shale energy development in the past two years.

“I tell people in my 29 years, I have never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s really big, it’s coming, big oil companies are investing billions of dollars into this part of the state and whether we like it or not, it’s coming,” Schumacher said.

Extension’s role in all this, he explained, is education, not promotion, “We take a nonbiased educational approach. We look at the pros and the cons and try to get people to talk about this and get educated,” he said.

“I have worked with farmers for 29 years. I know the farmers and their families and how hard they work, and I realize now they are making decisions about their farm that involves a lot of money and involves future generations, so they need to make good, educated decisions, and that’s why Extension has gotten involved.”

Half his time has been working with a state Extension team facilitating informational meetings with 145 of them so far reaching an estimated 14,000 people, including local farmers and landowners.

Schumacher said his take on shale gas development hasn’t changed. “If this is coming, and there is every indication that it is, let’s all work together to try to do things right.”

With the development comes concerns, he said, a main one being water quality and water needed for the fracking process – about 5 million gallons per well per day.

Fracking is not a process new to Ohio, however, as it’s been done with oil and gas wells for 60 years. The fracking process takes about seven days, he said.

People don’t have to have a lot of land for shale gas development to have an impact with pipeline development. Companies have to pay landowners to go through their lands with pipelines, he said, and it can involve negotiations. “We tell people that right away don’t just accept the first offer,” he said.

Schumacher said when officials met with Green County, Pa., representatives for their experiences with shale gas development so far, the “take-home message we brought back to Ohio is they felt very unprepared when this all came to their community, and it was all new.”

Some people think the presence of this is maybe five years, but Schumacher said that’s just how long it’s taking to get things started. About 250 wells in Ohio have been drilled, numbers he predicted will climb.

While many people have received money for leasing land, the real money is in royalties which has yet to be realized, he said.

Cross, whose background includes being a field geologist who did water sample testing, and Schumacher said Extension advises landowners to have water sampling done before drilling occurs and afterwards for comparison purposes and to even negotiate that as part of the leasing agreement.

Extension also advises landowners to get a third-party water sampling test conducted.

Cross said there definitely have been some economic benefits already from development with stores leasing and selling supplies and equipment and increased demand for housing. It also, however, brings increased truck traffic.

A good resource for information, they said, is available through the Extension website