This summer, researchers from Yale University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are testing household drinking water samples and interviewing around 200 Ohio households to study the effects of oil and natural gas activities in the Appalachian Basin.

Composed of researchers from the Yale School of Public Health (YPSH), Yale Forestry & Environmental Studies and MIT, the investigators want to determine how energy activities could influence groundwater chemistry, and therefore human health. Researchers are focusing on energy development in Belmont and Monroe counties.

Oil and gas extraction has been particularly intensive in Belmont and Monroe counties, where more than 1,000 horizontal wells have been drilled in the last decade. In 2018, Belmont County had the most footage drilled at nearly 1.9 million feet, followed closely by Monroe and Jefferson counties. Operators drilled 6.5 million feet across the state, up from six million feet in 2017.

Although oil and gas development “has expanded rapidly in eastern Ohio, evidence on whether the practice affects water quality in nearby communities remains limited,” said YSPH Assistant Professor Nicole Deziel. “We are conducting the largest water quality study in the region to date to address these information gaps.”

Earlier this year Appalachia’s second multi-billion dollar ethane cracker secured all the major regulatory approvals needed to move forward after the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) completed its environmental review and issued final permits.

The plant, being constructed in Belmont County, would use six ethane cracking furnaces and manufacture polymers, which are used in plastics and chemical manufacturing. The OEPA said in January “carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter and greenhouse gas pollutants are expected to be emitted within acceptable levels.”

The surge in energy production has helped make oil and gas more abundant and less expensive, but researchers fear the adverse side effects on the environment. Their main concerns center around high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

According to professor Heidi Robertson of the Cleveland Marshall College of Law, Ohio’s oil and gas production regulations include a preemption provision. The state legislature has over the years assigned more oil and gas activities related to production directly to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Once the preemption is assigned to DNR, local communities may have little control in oil and gas issues.

The Ohio study began at the end of May and continues through mid-August. As part of the study, residents may receive a report with their individual water testing results.