Supporters and opponents of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) have taken turns voicing their opinions in an Ohio newspaper in Marcellus territory this month, just days after a nonprofit organization declared the state’s program regulating the practice to be well managed.

In a Feb. 9 letter to The Marietta Times, Joel Freedman — a resident of Canandaigua, NY, and a chairman for the group Animal Rights Advocates of Upstate New York — asserted that hydrofracking is unsafe and called for a moratorium in Ohio similar to the one in New York.

“I am involved in endeavors to prohibit hydrofracking in New York, and it should be prohibited in Ohio, too,” Freedman said. Hydrofracking “produces toxic byproducts that are hazardous to people, animals and our drinking water [and] has wreaked havoc in Pennsylvania.”

Last December in New York, former Democratic Gov. David Paterson extended a deadline for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to prepare a supplemental generic environmental impact statement on hydrofracking (see Shale Daily, Dec. 14, 2010). That move essentially extends a moratorium on horizontal wells — put in place by Paterson in July 2008 (see Daily GPI, July 28, 2008) — until July 1.

Freedman derided Ohio Gov. John Kasich for allegedly supporting drilling in parts of the Buckeye State. Kasich, a Republican, took office in January.

“Those who promote protection of our environment convey an important message that should not be ignored, especially not ignored by elected officials who are entrusted to safeguard our well-being,” Freedman said.

That was apparently too much for Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, located in Granville. Stewart’s rebuttal appeared in the newspaper on Wednesday.

“As it relates to Pennsylvania, Freedman’s assessment couldn’t be further from the truth if it hitched a lift to the other side of Distortionville,” Stewart said. “In the few short years since Marcellus development has taken root in [Pennsylvania], more than 88,000 jobs have been created and over $1 billion in local and state tax revenue was generated.”

Stewart told NGI’s Shale Daily that Freedman’s letter “went over like a lead balloon” in Washington County, where Marietta is the county seat. According to Stewart, oil and gas wells have been producing in Washington and neighboring Noble and Monroe counties since 1866. He estimates that about 5,000 people are directly employed in the exploration and production of oil and gas in Ohio today.

“This hysteria is just out of control,” Stewart said. “We’ve been fracturing wells up and down eastern Ohio since 1952. There have to be at least 80,000 wells hydraulically fractured since the early ’50s in Ohio. How my dad fracked wells essentially is no different than the way they’re fracking wells today.”

Stewart added that the thousands of wells in Ohio have, up to now, been primarily drilled into the Utica Shale. The Marcellus Shale, he said, touches the state’s eastern border counties, but drilling there is in its infancy.

“If the experiences of Pennsylvania and West Virginia are any indication of the future, then I would expect to see [Marcellus Shale drilling] have a substantial economic effect in Ohio,” Stewart said.

In his letter, Stewart cited the positive review of Ohio’s hydrofracking program by the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, or STRONGER Inc., earlier this month (see Shale Daily, Feb. 7).

STRONGER “determined that Ohio’s hydraulic fracturing regulatory programs are ‘well managed’ and merit ‘special recognition,'” Stewart said.

According to figures from the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP), more than 273,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in Ohio to date; only Texas, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania have drilled more wells. OOGEEP said the Buckeye State produced 5.1 million barrels of crude oil and 88 Bcf of natural gas in 2009.