YSU professor gives fracking well primer

By Mike sever | staff writer Published:

The new oil and natural gas boom in Ohio is a continuation of the state's long history in the industry, Dr. Jeffrey C. Dick of Youngstown State University told members and guests of the local Concerned Citizens Ohio group Tuesday night.

Dick gave a primer on the state's oil history, its geology and the current boom in Utica/Point Pleasant shale drilling in Portage and other eastern Ohio counties.

Ohio's role as an oil producer started more than a century ago with the oil fields in the northwestern part of the state, which resulted in the founding of Standard Oil. Since then more than 274,000 wells have been drilled in Ohio, with 64,000 of them still active, Dick said. That places Ohio with the fourth highest number of wells in the U.S.

While most of those wells were drilled in the Clinton sandstone strata, the new boom is in the deeper Utica/Point Pleasant layers. Dick said drilling into the Utica/Point Pleasant shale actually produces less brine than do wells into the more common Clinton sandstone. Brine is a natural salt water that flows out of the well once it is producing gas and oil. Well brine is about three times saltier than sea water, Dick said.

"Flowback" is the return of the hydraulic fracture water pumped into the well under pressure to break open the shale to release the natural gas and oil. Dick said about 20 percent of the frack water comes out as flowback.

Dick said production and regulation in Ohio is going more smoothly than occurred in Pennsylvania.

"We've learned a lot of lessons from the mistakes made in Pennsylvania," he said.

Dick explained the anatomy of a modern horizontal hydraulic fracture well and the process that frees natural gas and oil from the shale layers.

Of some 221 Utica/Point Pleasant wells drilled so far in 20 counties, 69 are producing. Dick said he expects the pace of drilling to pick up.

Dick said his biggest concern with the hydraulic fracturing process is the amount of water it uses. Industry estimates are that an average of 5 million gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals to help free the gas and oil, are used for each production string. While much of the water is recycled and used in subsequent wells, Dick said the industry knows using that amount of water is economically unfeasible and is looking for new techniques.

Dick said property owners concerned about their water wells should have baseline tests done over the course of a year because of seasonal changes in the water table and water chemistry.

"There's a natural cycle of ups and downs," he said. "It's going to take more than one testing prove" if there has been any changes to the water from an outside source, he said.

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1125 or msever@recordpub.com

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  • Frack baby......frack!