“Nothing in the past 50 years has changed the energy supply picture in the U.S. as rapidly as shale energy (often considered to be part of what is called ‘unconventional’ oil and gas by the petroleum industry),” said Jeff Daniels, Co-director for The Ohio State University Subsurface Energy Resource Center
(SERC). “The ability to produce natural gas and oil from shale came about as a result of combining horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing has been around for over 50 years as a routine method for enhancing oil production. Horizontal drilling came on the scene fairly recently (arguably 5 to 10 years ago).”
Recent news that eastern Ohio’s natural gas deposits could be worth over $20 billion was big news when Ohio Gov. John Kasich discussed the associated jobs potential the shale industry represents. Although Ohio is a long way from a massive natural gas industry, the U.S. Geological Survey did update its estimates in August 2011 for the Marcellus Shale region underlying New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, saying it contains 84 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas.
Drilling for natural gas in the Utica Shale (technically, the Utica Point Pleasant) formation and a second formation, known as the Marcellus Shale, underway in eastern Ohio for the past few years, is dwarfed by the thousands of Marcellus Shale wells already operating in Pennsylvania. The Marcellus Shale has a smaller footprint in Ohio than the Utica and lies beneath Ohio’s easternmost counties. The Utica deposits are geologically older and lie below the Marcellus formations.
In reality, the confirmation that Ohio could move into a new realm of energy production and thereby create thousands of new jobs, also drew mixed reviews from environmentalists, industries, municipalities, and economists, concerned about groundwater contamination and other issues. Oil recovery from shale is going to stay a hot topic in Ohio for quite a while. The controversy stems from the way that natural gas is extracted from the shale.
In his Science Sundays presentation on February 19, 2012, Daniels also said, “Prior to the development of horizontal drilling (which will significantly increase production in all geologic formations, not just shale), the energy security and supply picture for the U.S. was bleak, and the U.S. economy was bracing for an extremely rocky energy future. Now, there is some hope that we will have enough domestic energy to feed our energy-hungry economy, and provide a larger measure of energy security for our Nation. Ohio’s resource of shale energy puts our state in a position to benefit economically from shale resources, and might provide an energy bridge to a time when technological advances in renewable energy sources ensure their economic viability.” He also said that as a result, drilling and production are likely to proceed quite rapidly. However, shale energy development must be conducted in an environmentally sound way to ensure that the benefits of energy production outweigh the environmental costs Daniels suggested that for SERC, the probable concerns of industry and the public will center around ensuring that environmental protection keeps pace with drilling and development activities. He added that there surely will be interest in how the University plans to educate its students in this area to be environmentally and socially conscious geologists and engineers.
Gina Langen, Director of Communications for the Ohio State Office of Energy and Environment, where SERC is housed, said that, “In establishing SERC in September 2011, we did not want be just cover one aspect of shale energy, we wanted to cover all aspects of the industry we see arising – geologic, economic, public health, environmental, outreach and education in communities impacted, policy making.
She added, “Seeing what is happening in other states, we want to get ahead of the problems that might occur in Ohio, by studying them as soon as possible. Our web site is not intended to be a clearinghouse for any and all content related to shale drilling, but we do want to be a resource for issues related to this technology in the context of capabilities and relevant research at Ohio State and within our program.”
Langen said that SERC was created to fulfill the need arising from the creation of the shale energy industry and because Ohio State is in a unique position to provide research that can drive policy insight, as well as outreach activities that perhaps no other entity could provide. SERC already has over 70 faculty members affiliated with the center, and representing a large variety of different academic areas, which will provide an enormous resource.”
“The recent potential for discovery in shale oil and gas opens a whole new arena for developing collaborations with companies in the energy and environment supply chains,” said Sharell Mikesell, Ph.D., Associate Vice President, who leads the Industry Liaison Office (ILO) at Ohio State. “There are many opportunities for developing new relationships with the Ohio State faculty and technology centers like SERC and the ILO can assist with facilitating connections to Ohio State personnel and facilities.”
Daniels added that “Our environmental responsibility is to find the ways and means to ensure sound environmental stewardship of shale energy development. I would also argue that for a number of reasons, the pressure to move forward rapidly with development, at this point in time, is great at all levels of the economic spectrum: people need jobs, the government (particularly local governments) needs tax revenues to operate, and we need a secure source of energy in the U.S.”
“For several decades, research in subsurface science and engineering was conducted by universities with traditional ties to the petroleum industry (Stanford, Penn State, MIT, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado School of Mines, etc.), but the technological needs of shale energy and the geographic distribution of shale resources opens research opportunities for less conventional university partners to develop unconventional scientific and technological approaches to unconventional oil and gas,” Daniels said. “Specifically, what can university research do to advance technological changes in the field that will ensure that our environment is protected (which will also help protect the industry in the long-run), and advance the petroleum industry’s ability to efficiently and safely extract oil and gas?”
Daniels said that for SERC, some of these new areas of research and development could be: 1) surface and ground water monitoring; 2) chemical and mechanical engineering of borehole casing and grouting; 3) new chemical and technological approaches to desalination and purification of flow-back and production water; 4) monitoring and mitigation technologies for subsurface core and cuttings that come to the surface; 5) new methods to remotely monitor subsurface physical and chemical changes associated with drilling, and looking farther into the future; and 6) in-situ manufacturing methods that utilize the oil and gas in the subsurface and produce a more refined product to the surface, thereby keeping all of the raw petroleum materials below ground.”
At this point, SERC is funded entirely by Ohio State. Many different colleges are impacted and have faculty members affiliated with the center, including the College of Engineering, the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (FAES), the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Public Health. SERC will likely apply for funding from other sources at a later date.
As of early February 2012, SERC has held a panel discussion at Ohio State every month since its inception and presented a major forum in November 2011. SERC is committed to bringing key topics to the public and the academic community and has already addressed such topics as a shale industry overview and environmental issues. Upcoming forums will cover gas delivery and pipeline issues in April and economic impact in May.
Ohio State Extension employees are busy in many Ohio counties, organizing meetings, coordinating with local farm bureaus and lawyers to answer landowners’ questions, and facilitating small group meetings i.
Langen said that Ohio State Extension educators serving in impacted counties have established a shale working group for promoting ideas and information, pooling resources, and identifying issues in their counties. More than 60 community meetings have been conducted, impacting more nearly 8,000 attendees.
“The mission of SERC is to be the voice of reason when it comes to the issues surrounding shale energy,” says Langen. “We intend to conduct research to help make energy resources like shale more efficient, economical, and environmentally safe, and to create policy that will protect everyone related to this industry.”
SERC staff is developing a strategic plan, mostly focusing on education as an initial role along with efforts to bring necessary parties together. Many Ohio State faculty have expressed interest in participating with SERC, which has invited anyone affiliated with any of the issues to consider joining the center. At present, SERC Co-Directors Jeff Daniels and Doug Southgate are presenting at department faculty meetings to inform faculty members of what is involved and invite them to join SERC if so inclined.
Compared to the many other centers at Ohio State, SERC is moving very quickly from concept to a well-functioning organization. SERC’s version of fast-track development is progressing smoothly by identifying resources and issues and making connections between the University and impacted communities.
Said Daniels, “We are trying to cover all the issues and keep a balanced approach. We are interested in hearing suggestions on topics for forums and meetings, so that we can focus on topics that will help energy development have a positive result for Ohio.”
Jeffrey Daniels, professor in the School of Earth Sciences, is a geophysicist with extensive exploration experience utilizing seismic, petrophysical measurements and borehole geophysics. Daniels currently works to characterize reservoir and cap rock (shale) in Ohio for CO2 sequestration potential, a project that has implications for gas shale as well as CO2 storage.
Douglas Southgate specializes in the study of natural resource issues in the U.S. and around the world. He has written numerous books, chapters and journal articles on public policies contributing to tropical deforestation, hydrocarbon development, the economics of watershed management, and related topics, and recently completed the second edition of The World Food Economy.
The Ohio State Subsurface Energy Resource Center (SERC) contributes to the knowledge of subsurface resource development and its associated environmental issues, as well as serves as a resource to policy makers. SERC effectively organizes and mobilizes competencies into an interdisciplinary university center that serves as an “honest broker” to interface between industry, government agencies and non-government organizations. Shale development will be the near-term primary focus of SERC, but other energy resource development issues will also be addressed as opportunities and needs arise.
The Industry Liaison Office
(ILO) was launched in December 2008 to found and foster mutually beneficial relationships with industry and organizations worldwide by brokering the alignment of Ohio State’s core capabilities in learning, discovery and innovation, and services with industry needs; creating dynamic and sustainable assets for our partners, State of Ohio and the global community. The ILO links the university’s immense assets to the needs of industry to drive ideas for research, new products, improved processes, and an expansion of services offered. Ohio State has achieved world-class status in such areas of research as advanced materials, electromagnetics, medical imaging, cancer diagnosis and therapeutics, infectious and cardiovascular diseases, veterinary medicine, environmental sciences, and agbioproducts.