The eastern Ohio area is dotted with old wells and abandoned mines. But the humongous drilling rig in a farm field east of Carrollton represents something new, something that promises to change Ohio forever.
A crew working for Chesapeake Energy drilled down more than a mile in late May before the drill bit turned 90 degrees. It then chewed a 4,000-foot-long horizontal shaft through a dense layer of flaky black rock that geologists call Utica shale.
If all goes as planned, a set of high-pressure pumps will replace the rig and eventually shoot millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals down the well.
The premise is that the mixture will shatter the shale and send trapped natural gas, oil, propane and butane streaming to the surface. This process is called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and that makes this 175-foot-tall rig more than just an expensive drill. It’s also a lightning rod.
Supporters of shale drilling, including Gov. John Kasich, see the beginning of an expanding oil-and-gas industry that could create thousands of Ohio jobs, all focused on producing a cheap, “ clean” energy supply that could last for generations.
“If the discovery of Utica shale and this natural gas can lift people and lift families and provide jobs, that in and of itself is worth it,” Kasich said. “We have to manage it right. ”
But critics say this type of drilling is an environmental nightmare that can poison the soil, water and air.