BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- A Penn State University professor whose research is often cited as the impetus behind the current Ohio-Pennsylvania fracking boom agreed Friday there is virtually no chance that type of drilling will occur in Bowling Green because the northwest Ohio college town doesn't have the rock formation to justify it.
"Bowling Green has nothing to lose by banning fracking, because fracking is not going to happen here, anyway," Terry Engelder, a PSU geosciences professor, said after delivering a guest lecture to about 60 people inside Bowling Green State University's Life Sciences building.
But the anti-fracking moves made by Bowling Green -- a zoning ordinance passed by city councilmen that bans fracking and disposal of fracking fluids, as well as a citizens' drive to amend the city's charter in hopes of strengthening those bans -- aren't wasted exercises, either. The latter calls for voters on Nov. 5 to approve a citizens' bill of rights to clean air, clean land, and clean water.
"It's a message from Bowling Green to Washington that this country needs to develop a national energy policy," Mr. Engelder said of the collective efforts.
Despite his pro-fracking reputation -- Mr. Engelder jokingly said his critics call him an "industry shill" -- he said he believes America needs to develop a more diversified portfolio of energy sources, one which includes a strong mix of renewables such as wind power and solar power.
"Renewables will happen," he told 15 students who joined him for a continued discussion in another academic hall moments later. "The rate it happens is up to your generation to figure out."
Mr. Engelder has served on the staffs of the U.S. Geological Survey, Texaco and Columbia University, and is a former member of a U.S.-Soviet Union earth science delegation. But he is best known for his research into the massive Marcellus Shale bedrock that encompasses much of central and eastern Ohio and extends across much of the northern half of Pennsylvania.
He and State University of New York-Fredonia professor Gary Lash discovered vast reserves of natural gas in the Marcellus region. In 2008, they predicted 50 trillion cubic feet of the 516 trillion cubic feet of Marcellus Shale was recoverable, prompting the current rush of drilling interest in those two states and in West Virginia. Much of eastern Ohio also is underlain by Utica shale, which likewise is believed to have vast untapped reserves.
Mr. Engelder has since become one of the geology world's rock stars, one of the most sought-after speakers in that realm of science.
His Bowling Green visit was part of the annual Mayfield Lecture Series in geology. It included a community talk on Thursday night in which he laid out a scientific case for why he believes water contamination in Dimock, Pa., was not caused by fracking.
One of the biggest mistakes made by the oil and gas industry and Pennsylvania regulators was failing to do enough baseline tests of water wells in the Dimock area in Susquehanna County before fracking began, he said.
That mistake won't be repeated in Ohio, where baseline tests are being done of water wells in several counties where fracking activities are soon expected to intensify, Mr. Engelder said.
"Industry continues to learn how to do it better, safer, and more responsibly," he said.
Fracking is the term for hydraulic fracturing of bedrock. The technique pumps millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into shale to create fissures that release oil and gas into the well. Some of that fracking fluid flows back to the surface.
Ohio injects most of Pennsylvania's flowback waste underground. The Buckeye State is preparing for a fracking boom in 2014 that is expected to last 20 to 30 years.
Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Tom Henry is a reporter for The Blade.