by KYLE MACDONALD
Kent -- A panel of journalists and geoscientists at Kent State University discussed the pros and cons of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, an oil and gas extraction process that is the source of debate among environmentalists, politicians and economists.
The forum, "Fracking: Promise or Peril," was hosted Feb. 20 by KSU's School of Communication Studies for its first Global Communication Issues Forum.
Dimiter Kenarov, a Pulitzer-winning journalist for his reporting on natural gas extraction in Poland, opened the event by discussing the implications of fracking before joining a panel with Akron Beacon Journal environmental reporter Bob Downing, and KSU geology professors Donald Palmer and Yoram Eckstein.
"Shale gas is pretty much everywhere. There is no exploration, so to speak, it is just a matter of how economically viable it is to extract the gas or oil in certain shales," Kenarov said, noting that fracking's potential has captured the imagination of powers around the world and is a resource that could redistribute geopolitical power.
Once the panel discussion began, all conceded that the process is "mostly safe," but each raised concerns as well.
Downing said there are air pollution, waste handling and water availability issues that often are overlooked.
"Ohio has a lot of water that could provide for a lot of fracking, but are we willing to lose the water?" Downing asked.
He added that about 99 out of 100 wells are estimated to be safe and said Ohio is projected to have 30,000 wells drilled in the coming years.
"ARE WE prepared to deal with that amount of wells? I'm not sure we are," Downing said.
Eckstein said fracking is just as much an environmental threat as conventional oil and gas drilling, with the biggest problems being errors and omissions, noting the case of a home that exploded in Geauga County after a driller disregarded warnings that methane could seep through the home's foundation.
Though there are new technologies in the industry, horizontal drilling is nothing new, Palmer said, adding that it's very likely all the gasoline used in cars comes from fracking.
Though Palmer said he believes fracking can be done safely, he expressed concerns on the volume of water used and disposal of the waste water after the process is finished.
Downing said Ohio has taken into account the mistakes of industry and other states in the past that led to environmental issues while crafting Ohio's regulations.
"There have been blowouts, spills, major fines imposed, cases of farm animals and people getting sick from exposures," he said. "We haven't seen any of that here in Ohio and part of that is the fine tuning of the rules to avoid those problems."
Kenarov said the hardest part about reporting on fracking in the U.S. is the lack of uniform regulation when going state to state.
He said lack of across-the-board regulation, transparency in industry and politics and lobbyism are the biggest problems associated with fracking.
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