Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) want to set up a functioning oil and gas well at the school’s Eastern Agricultural Station in Noble County, OH, to study the environmental effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Jeff Daniels, who directs OSU’s Subsurface Energy Resource Center (SERC), told NGI’s Shale Daily that the school wants to gather baseline information on various aspects of shale development, and to study fracking’s effects on air and water quality, land and wildlife.

“It’s an opportunity — and, we feel, a responsibility — to conduct this kind of research, while at the same time work with the industry to develop different processes and procedures,” Daniels said Wednesday. “We want to expose our students to this technology and at the same time do some public outreach.”

According to Daniels, SERC is currently planning to drill one horizontal well targeting the Utica Shale, and an associated vertical monitoring well to gather microseismic data. “There certainly is the possibility of having a pad at some point and developing more wells.”

Daniels added that the university has been negotiating with several companies to serve as the drilling operator, but he declined to offer details.

“We are still in that stage of talking to operators about the possibility of working with us on this. It might end up being a consortium of operators, but obviously you need one lead operator.”

SERC has applied for an $8 million grant through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to help finance the project. The grant would be awarded through the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, whose members include Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Apache Corp., Baker Hughes Inc., BHP Billiton Petroleum, BP America Inc., Chesapeake Energy Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy Corp., Encana Corp., ExxonMobil Corp., Halliburton Co., Hess Corp., Noble Energy Inc. and Schlumberger Ltd.

Ohio Environmental Council spokeswoman Melanie Houston told NGI’s Shale Daily that the council “would be more supportive of research on existing shale gas wells that are already in the state. The argument that’s being made is that they’re having a difficult time with industry allowing them on site to conduct that sort of research. That doesn’t cut it. The university needs to look at what would be the potential environmental risks to drilling on publicly owned land.”

State lawmakers opened land to oil and gas leasing in 2011, with the exception of nature preserves (see Shale Daily, June 16, 2011). Under Substitute HB 133, a five-member Oil and Gas Leasing Commission (OGLC) was created to authorize leasing. Each member would serve a five-year term but to date, no members have been selected.

“When you look at research on human subjects, you have to essentially go through a process that shows that you will do no harm in the pursuit of that research or that science,” Houston said. “While I don’t believe there’s a similar process for the environment, that’s really an underpinning question: Could there be harm that is caused in the pursuit of this research or this science?”

When asked if there was any difference to OSU growing plants or raising cattle for horticultural or agricultural studies, she said, “it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison. This isn’t like studying agricultural crops or cattle or dairy production. This is installing a pretty massive, capital-intensive extraction technology, [an investment that is] entering into the $1 million and above range. It’s a different scale.

“I also question getting behind and promoting this as the direction that the state needs to be moving in. It’s a case model for promoting shale gas development in the state.”

But Daniels said his researchers have so far been unable to study an existing shale gas well.

“We’ve tried to piggy-back onto other wells,” he said. “In some cases we have received cores from companies that we can work on, and bits and pieces of information. But as far as ever being able to put a complete well history together, gather baseline information, do post-drilling monitoring — that is a very, very difficult thing to do. We haven’t had any success in getting a company to do that.”

OSU researchers would have to get permission from a private landowner to access an existing well, Daniels said.

“That really limits and restricts what we will be able to do on the site. We probably wouldn’t have long-term access to a site. And we anticipate that we will have researchers from other universities working there, too. It’s mainly an issue of access to data and information, both on the surface and in the subsurface.”

Gov. John Kasich is to appoint four members to the OGLC, two of whom would be recommended by the oil and gas industry, one with a background in finance or real estate, and one tapped by environmentalists. The final member, who would also serve as OGLC chair, would be the chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Geological Survey.