Delaware News

County leaders consider fracking's pros, cons

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Delaware County Commissioner Dennis Stapleton and County Administrator Tim Hansley talked Thursday, Oct. 4, during the board of commissioners' meeting about a seminar the pair attended recently on the potential impact of fracking -- if and when it arrives in Delaware.

Fracking -- short for hydraulic fracturing -- involves the use of pressurized liquids to allow the release of natural gas and other fuels from rock layers.

"We really had a cross-section of engineers, school superintendents, commissioners, environmental advocates (and) township trustees, and each gave a different picture of what fracking might mean to a community," Stapleton said.

In mid-September, for instance, Barnesville Village Council in Belmont County leased out land to Antero Resources for fracking to the tune of $6 million.

"And that was for a village of only 4,000 residents," Stapleton said.

"But on the other hand, we can hardly imagine the traffic for these wells," he said. "Each well generates 7,000 truck trips in a 21-day period -- and these are heavy trucks. One trustee told us that their roads are limestone and when they get wet, they turn to mush.

"He said, 'I had a school superintendent call me the other day refusing to release the students because the roads were so bad.' It's just one little issue, but as the trustee said, it's a reality issue," Stapleton said. "These are the types of things we're having to deal with now that fracking is here."

Hansley said it remains uncertain whether oil and gas deposits in what is known as the Utica Shale will extend into Delaware County.

"One of the questions that concerns us is, how far does this vein of frackable gas go?" he said. "Is it going to hit Delaware County and if so how soon?

"They've dug, I think, four test wells in Knox County. They have not been successful yet in Knox County, but they are not writing that county off. Nobody knows quite how far west this vein is going to go."

At the conference, Stapleton and Hansley heard about both the positive and negative impacts of fracking -- not to mention some contradictory information.

"One oil executive said the impact on school enrollment is negligible because many of the workers come in from out of the region and they don't have children," Stapleton said, "but then we heard from a commissioner who told us one of her schools had seen an increase in enrollment of 800 students in a single year."

Hansley said Delaware County would do well to remember one of the recurring lessons he gleaned from the conference: "That what we're talking about here is boom and bust. That this is definitely a cycle."

He pointed to "another school district that got a check for $400,000 for the wells on its property ... and they went out and put that money into new school buses. They were wise enough not to put it into hiring new teachers because of a one-time capital item, knowing that that might dry up and that their enrollment might not rise much if at all."

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