New Franklin is normally a quiet little town. Lately, though, the lights are on into the night while crews work on some sort of well in a field near the high school — and in the morning, Pat Boiarski and her neighbors are finding promises in their mailboxes.
According to a Southern Ohio mineral leasing company, there’s a lot of money in the ground, buried thousands of feet beneath their homes, farms and businesses.
“We got a contract that offered to pay us more than $12,000 to start drilling,” Pat Boiarski, of Renninger Road, said recently. “Just like that — about 25 hundred bucks an acre, plus royalties.”
The Boiarskis were contacted by Pleasant View Management Ohio, a company that hopes to buy up mineral rights in New Franklin and other parts of Summit County for gas exploration.
The company is interested in acquiring the rights to drill into the Utica shale formation beneath the county through a controversial process called hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking. Essentially a well is drilled to a depth of 6,000 to 8,000 feet into a shale formation, then lines are drilled horizontally to create fractures in the rock. A mixture of water and chemicals is pumped into the cracks at high pressure to release the gas.
Proponents of the drilling say fracking has the potential to revitalize economically hard-hit areas in Northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Opponents say that the chemicals used in fracking can pollute groundwater and cause air pollution, and that the construction necessary to build the wells creates too high a burden on infrastructure in rural areas where drilling often takes place.
“The contract (states) they will ship in water if we have trouble, but you’re still washing clothes and dishes and showering in it,” Boiarski said. “If they destroy the water table, will they buy my house when it’s worth nothing? And they need millions of gallons of water to do this. So where does the water come from — will they drain the Portage Lakes?”
Boiarski said she wants more information about the process before she decides, but she’s worried other people may act more quickly.
“I went to the meeting. It could be a perfect storm,” Boiarski said. “In this economy, the thing most people were asking was, ‘Where’s my check? How long does it take me to get a check?’
“People need money,” she said, “and that’s all a lot of people were thinking. That’s frightening.”
Two weeks ago, Pleasant View Management Ohio quietly opened up a branch office among the carcasses of the former Rolling Acres Mall business district in Akron.
On Wednesdays from 4 to 9 p.m., Kyle Rice, one of the company’s owners, and his agents hold public meetings to explain the contracts they have been mailing out to Summit County residents like the Boiarskis.
Page 2 of 3 - Rice said his company needs agreements for approximately 5,000 horizontal feet to get a drilling company interested in buying the leases.
In just 10 days of business, he’s one-fifth of the way there.
“We look for a few ‘seed’ landowners to cultivate to get things going,” he said. “We already signed up a few of the bigger landowners and the result is overwhelming interest. The meetings are packed, and we end up standing out in the hall answering questions after we’re done.”
Rice said drilling companies are looking for a number of leases in a particular area to make drilling cost effective. He said it takes $5 million to $10 million to dig the well and a few hundred thousand more to get the water needed for the hydraulic fracturing process.
“It’s good when a landowner also has a pond on his property,” Rice said. “Say, hypothetically, you did get water from the Portage Lakes or another lake, you would have to pay for the water, and pay to build the water lines and pump to the site. If there’s no water, you have to truck it in.”
Before that happens, Rice’s role in the process is over. His company sells leases to drilling companies that build the wells. It’s the drillers’ job to sell the fuel to providers like Dominion and Columbia.
Rice declined to say whether a particular drilling company is interested in the Summit leases, but said past leases have been sold to Exxon, Chesapeake, Chevron and Shell.
Leasing companies don’t need a permit and are not required to notify a local government to come into an area. Drillers need only to register with the state, which has left officials in New Franklin without answers.
“There’s dirt in the road across from the high school,” said Manchester Superintendent Sam Reynolds of the well on Nimisila Road that has been a mystery to locals. “There’s big lights on it at night... trucks moving in and out of there. It’s wear and tear on the neighborhood. We need to know how far they are going... whether they are under the school... who owns it.”
An internet search shows that the directional well Reynolds questioned is owned by Dominion East Ohio. Digging began there Nov. 4. By Nov. 11, the well had been dug to a depth of 1,922 feet.
New Franklin Zoning Commissioner Barry Ganoe said he has been referring callers to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Oil and Gas Division in Columbus.
“They don’t have to ask for any zoning,” Ganoe said. “They don’t have to tell us anything.”
However, according to ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans, the agency doesn’t regulate the leasing companies either.
“We consider that a private contract,” she said.
Page 3 of 3 - The ODNR does regulate drillers. The agency issues two-year permits for vertical wells, exploratory wells, testing and volume tests for horizontal drilling.
Hetzel-Evans said cities and townships can sign up with ODNR to be notified when a permit is issued or updated.
She also said that Ohio has no history of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing. The agency is currently taking comments on a rules that will change the laws on well construction. To see a draft of the rules and add your comments, visit the website www.ohiodnr.com/tabid/23649/Default.aspx.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are conducting federal studies of hydraulic fracturing, and several states have imposed moratoriums on the practice.
In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich supports shale exploration as a vehicle for creating jobs. In September, Kasich moved ODNR Director David Mustine to a position as general manager for energy with the state’s private economic development firm JobsOhio. Mustine was a former vice president of American Electric Power who also worked in an oil and gas business in Dubai.
Associate Editor Andrew Adam contributed to this report.