LISBON - Think before you lease, warned a representative for an organization concerned about possible water and land contamination resulting from Marcellus shale drilling.
"It's really up to you to protect yourself," said Pam Zedak of the Northeast Ohio Gas Accountability Project (NEOGAP), speaking at a public meeting held Monday to discuss the possible effects of Marcellus shale drilling in Columbiana County.
The number of natural gas drilling leases in the county has skyrocketed in the past six months, with more landowners currently negotiating with land men representing drilling companies and other interested parties.
Zedak, an unpaid volunteer for NEOGAP, asked if hydraulic fracturing - the process involving water mixed with chemicals used to release the natural gas from the shale - is so safe, then why is it exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act and other major federal environmental regulation? She said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is revisiting the exemption.
In addition to potential contamination from the drilling process, Zedak said landowners should be concerned about drillers tapping into their groundwater to supply water for hydraulic fracturing, a process that can take as much as 10 million gallons of water.
At a previous public meeting, a state official said the risk of groundwater disruption or contamination was minimal because the Marcellus shale is more than 6,000 feet down, and drilling is done with several layers of casing to protect the environment.
Attorney Alan Wenger, who also was invited to speak at the meeting, said he knows of an instance where the hydraulic fracturing fluid leached into a groundwater supply by following a seam in the ground.
Zedak said Ohio needs to strengthen its environmental regulations.
"We have the most favorable laws to the gas industry of any of the states" within the Marcellus shale, she said, adding that bills the state legislature have passed in recent years "basically gave the gas industry the upper hand" and eliminated any local control.
Several state legislators currently are working on bills designed to address some of the environmental and regulatory concerns.
Zedak, who described herself as a wife and mother, said her family moved from Pennsylvania to Hudson and became involved in NEOGAP when a company expressed interest in drilling under their elementary school
"What surprised me is the attitude in Ohio ... How willing we've been to embrace" the prospect of leasing property for drilling, she said.
Regarding those inclined to lease your property, Zedak urged property owners to do their homework and add clauses to protect their groundwater supplies and property from possible contamination.
"The standard language is not going to protect you," she said of the leases.
This was the second meeting hosted by state Rep. Linda Bolon and state Sen. Jason Wilson, with the first being held on Oct. 4, which was attended by more than 500 people. This week's follow-up meeting to address other issues not covered during the first session drew fewer than 200 people.
In addition to Zedak and Wenger, others available to answer questions from the crowd were Mike Estock, financial services officer for the Farm Credit Services of Mid-America, and Jim Pirko, vice president of the Mahoning Valley Real Estate Investors Association.