The shale gas boom in the Ohio Valley has made quite a bit of money for private landowners. Naturally, local governments have sought to seek to cash in as well.
Now, a popular recreational area wants to lease acreage for Utica shale drilling, and many residents showed up to a public forum in Belmont County to air their concerns.
Lakes managed and controlled by the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District sit right in the middle of prime real estate for Utica Shale drilling companies. Possible changes to Piedmont Lake drew a crowd to the Carnes Center in Belmont County for a public forum.
"They're coming forward with this because it's part of their charter that they have to at least consider what we're saying," said Robert West, a Coshocton resident. "And I don't that they think they took into consideration that we were going to show up in such high numbers in opposition to this." West said he has reached his sophomore year at Oregon State University, studying environmental policy and management.
Drilling company supporters maintain shale gas exploration will not contaminate water supplies.
"Hydraulic fracturing has been around for about 60 years. In that time, we have hydraulic fractured about one-point-two million wells in the United States," said Shawn Bennett, "and there's not been a single case of groundwater contamination." Bennett , a spokesman for "Energy in Depth", identified it as a public interest group which supports oil and gas industry exploration in the area.
Those on both sides of the issue remain skeptical of claims made at forums such as this one.
"It seems like a lot of folks have gotten a lot of information from the Internet, from unverified sources. Unfortunately, what they have learned is not actually factual," Bennett said. "A lot of this misinformation out there is propagated by those opposed to oil and gas development."
West said, "What I have heard from them tonight is at best a solution for money. And that's not a solution for our environment, and it's a direct violation of their charter -- for them to protect our water."
A 6,600 acre lease could bring MWCD some $50 million before a drilling company sinks a well.
To send comments electronically or by mail on the lease plans:
Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District
P.O. Box 349
New Philadelphia, OH 44663