Ohio Shale's Biggest Environmental Impact May Be on Forests: Talk at Farm Science Review

Sep. 9, 2015

Ohio Shale's Biggest Environmental Impact May Be on Forests: Talk at Farm Science Review

Shale drilling’s biggest effect on Ohio’s environment might not come from the wells themselves but from the many new pipelines they need.

So says watershed expert Joe Bonnell of The Ohio State University, who will speak twice on his research looking into the Ohio shale industry’s environmental impacts at the Sept. 22-24 Farm Science Review trade show in London, Ohio.

While the risk of drinking water well contamination from one of the industry’s methods, hydraulic fracturing, has gotten lots of attention, there’s a lack of comprehensive data on how rare or common such cases actually are, said Bonnell, who is watershed management program director for the university’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

However, he said, “The environmental impact that I hear less about in the media but that I believe will be much more significant is the loss and fragmentation of habitat from well pad construction, and more importantly, from pipeline construction.”

Part of Gwynne’s conservation series

Bonnell has compiled data from various state agencies about Ohio’s shale industry as part of his work in the college. He’ll discuss his findings in “The Environmental Impacts of the Shale Oil and Gas Industry” from noon to 12:30 p.m. Sept. 22 and from 11-11:30 a.m. Sept. 24 as part of a series of conservation talks at the Review. The college is the Review’s sponsor.

Scientists say forest fragmentation — breaking up big, continuous forests into smaller, disconnected ones — can reduce the numbers of certain wildlife species, can change the mix of plant species in the forest, and can help non-native species invade.

Much of Ohio’s shale drilling is in the southeast part of the state, where anywhere from half to three-quarters of the land may be forested, according to a fact sheet by Ohio State University Extension, the college’s outreach arm.

“Every producing well in Ohio will need to be connected to a processing facility via pipelines, and many new pipelines are being built in a region that has some of the best and largest forests in the state,” Bonnell said.

‘What we can, can’t conclude from the data’

He said his talk will give an overview of the environmental issues associated with hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling and other industry practices. He’ll cover the most common concerns of farmers and other landowners, such as noise, traffic and water supply effects.

“I’ll also share data I’ve compiled as part of an economic development project that sheds light on the scale of drilling, water use and waste disposal associated with this fast-growing industry,” he said.

“I’ll talk about what we can and can’t conclude from the available data and what additional data are needed to better understand the broader impacts of the shale oil and gas boom on Ohio’s environment and natural resources.”

Bonnell’s talk is one of many set for the Review’s 67-acre Gwynne Conservation Area. Find a complete list of them at go.osu.edu/FSRgwynne2015. The area is part of the site of the Review, the college’s 2,100-acre Molly Caren Agricultural Center.

Details about the Review overall, including activities, ticket prices and hours, are at fsr.osu.edu. Some 130,000 people are expected to attend the event.