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Shale Conference Questions Motives Behind Nation's Drilling Fever

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A veritable who’s who of activists, environmental groups, researchers and academics convened in Warren, Ohio this weekend for a conference on the hazards of natural gas drilling. Ideastream’s Michelle Kanu spoke with the keynote speaker, Deborah Rogers, about why she says the oil and gas industry misinformed the public about the intentions of their drilling frenzy.

Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 6:56 am

Over the past few years, Oil and gas executives have projected big benefits to come from the drilling boom taking place across parts of Eastern Ohio - tens of thousands of jobs, and a long term energy supply that will keep fuel prices in check.

But as the industry continues to ramp up, so does the alarm from activists, environmental groups, and academics who say the industry’s promises are overblown, the risks are great, and cities don’t have the power to regulate it.

That was largely the focus of the Unconventional Shale Drilling Conference hosted by the Buckeye Forest Council and the Freshwater Accountability Project of Ohio.

Keynote speaker Deborah Rogers, founder of the group Energy Policy Forum, takes a different tack in her criticism. In her just-published report examining the financial stability of the oil and gas industry, she says many companies have been making ambitious projections to their investors about the amount of natural gas they can produce. She argues that has hyper-stimulated drilling activity into a frenzy nationwide.

Rogers: “I think what happened is that the investment banks actually kept the pressure on these companies to meet those production targets and that in turn glutted the market.”

When companies drill a well, it tends to gush in the first year, but the amount of oil and gas it produces drops off over time. Rogers says that’s why companies are drilling so many, so quickly.

Rogers: “They’re not performing anywhere near up to expectation and they’re short lived, so you just can’t count on the money.”

And in the long run, she says, companies may run out of places to drill, or overly exploit the land in trying to find new reserves.

Rogers bases her claims on research by environmental groups like the Post Carbon Institute using well production data from Texas and Pennsylvania. She says the flurry of drilling now could lead to a host of problems with road construction, air quality, and public health issues in the future.

Rogers: “There is some economic benefit upfront, it’s just, is it enough to offset the road damages, the environmental degradation, is it enough on the back end? And that stuff is going to go on for a very long time.”

Like many involved the conference, Rogers says she understands natural gas exploration will continue, but that should not crowd out efforts to develop more renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and thermonuclear power.

Other presenters included groups like Policy Matters Ohio, the Ohio Environmental Council, and grassroots organizations like Concerned Citizens of Portage County. Some emphasized holes in the state's drilling regulations, while others highlighted evidence of the environmental problems shale exploration has created in their communities.

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