M3 Midstream’s Harrison Hub fractionation plant in eastern Ohio. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
Controversy continues over the rapid growth of high volume oil and gas operations made possible by horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
But at its “State of the Play” event at Stark State College, officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) had only enthusiasm for the state’s growing shale gas industry.
The state’s natural gas production nearly doubled last year, mostly as a result of horizontal wells in the Utica Shale in eastern Ohio. Market shifts have made that formation’s “wet gas” particularly profitable.
Such wet gas has a relatively high proportion of other light hydrocarbons in addition to methane. Those other hydrocarbons can be separated out, processed and sold to make plastics and other petrochemical products.
“These are very valuable products,” said Rick Simmers, Chief of ODNR’s Division of Oil & Gas Resources. “And they make the Utica unique among shale plays in the entire nation and, for that matter, in the world.”
The University of Dayton prioritizes clean energy, divesting from fossil fuels and focusing research on alternatives like algae. Photo courtesy of University of Dayton.
The University of Dayton is divesting interests in coal and other fossil fuel companies from its $670 million investment portfolio.
The move by Ohio’s largest Catholic university is one of the latest steps in a growing movement to use divestment as a way to address climate change and promote social justice.
To implement the new policy, the University is first divesting its domestic holdings in large coal and fossil fuel companies. After that, it will unload various foreign investments and then restrict future investments in private equity or hedge funds involving fossil fuels.
“For us it really is a university commitment around environmental sustainability, human rights, and our religious mission,” explained University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran.
Fracking means more truck traffic on roads like this one in Carroll County. Photo by Susy Morris via Creative Commons.
Even before the most recent recession, Carroll County in rural eastern Ohio was struggling. Employment prospects were sparse and young people were fleeing for opportunities elsewhere. Then came 2011 and arrival of the shale industry, giving the local economy an injection of jobs and the attendant financial benefits an influx of new business creates.
Though shale development has changed the county’s fortunes, the transformation from ghost town to boom town has been far from smooth, according to a study released in April by nonprofit research organization Policy Matters Ohio. Months after the study was made public, there are still lingering questions about whether the cultural, environmental and public health costs of fracking outweigh the economic benefits.
“This was a region struggling for a long time, so fracking has been a shot in the arm,” said Amanda Woodrum, report author and Policy Matters researcher. “But the story does not end there.”
The Cincinnati Zoo solar array. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski
A giant solar panel canopy is exceeding expectations by cutting electricity costs for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. At the same time, 1.5 million visitors each year get an up-close look at clean energy.
The 6,400-panel solar array covers most of the zoo’s Vine Street parking lot. At peak operation, it supplies roughly 20 percent of the Ohio zoo’s electricity. As a bonus, the array shades visitors’ cars on hot summer days.
“It’s been everything we wanted and more,” said Mark Fisher, Vice President for Facilities, Planning and Sustainability at the Zoo.
Illinois native Sandra Steingraber has taken her fracking fight to New York. Photo by Dale Willman.
High-profile environmental activist, biologist and writer Sandra Steingraber – whom Rolling Stone dubbed the “Toxic Avenger” – gained her love of science and ecology in the Midwest, growing up in central Illinois and studying English and biology in Illinois before earning a biology doctorate at the University of Michigan.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring motivated Steingraber to “leave the lab,” as she says, and become an environmental activist and watchdog, as well as an author and poet. She survived bladder cancer — which she suspects was linked to water pollution — and gained international acclaim for her book Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, overlaying cancer data and federal toxic release statistics.
In 2011 Steingraber won the prestigious Heinz Award. By then she was living in upstate New York, where high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for natural gas had exploded on the scene. Steingraber used the $100,000 prize to start the grassroots organization New Yorkers Against Fracking, a movement that soon spread to other states and launched her as an international leader on the issue.
Steingraber has spoken out against the controversial fracking regulations in her home state of Illinois, and traveled to Europe to meet with people dealing with drilling in their communities.
She spent a few days in late June at Carnegie Mellon University with a delegation of reporters convened by the Society of Environmental Journalists. The group heard from industry sources, academics, scientists, landowners and activists about the ways fracking has played out in the Marcellus shale, and what the future may hold.
Wind turbines planned for Lake Erie will share engineering technology with wind farms in the North Sea. (Photo by Martin Pettitt via Creative Commons)
Developers of an Ohio offshore wind energy project say it will proceed despite losing out last month on one of three $47-million 4-year grants from the Department of Energy (DOE).
The money would have let Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation (LEEDCo) build its 18-MW Icebreaker pilot project and have it in operation by 2018.
Nonetheless, DOE has agreed to give LEEDCo at least $3 million to complete engineering and other studies. The funds are in addition to approximately $4 million awarded by DOE in 2012.
“The most important thing is that we’re still moving forward,” says LEEDCo president Lorry Wagner.
Blue Creek Wind Farm in Ohio. (Courtesy Iberdrola Renewables)
With little discussion or fanfare, Ohio legislators have essentially put a stop to new wind farms in the state, industry experts say.
Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 483 on Monday, just days after signing another bill that freezes and alters Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. HB 483 includes revised setback provisions that will likely make new projects economically unfeasible.
The bill “basically zones new wind projects out of Ohio,” says Eric Thumma, Director of Policy and Regulatory Affairs for Iberdrola Renewables, Inc.
Iberdrola’s Ohio wind farm projects include the 304 MW Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert and Paulding County. About ten of its Ohio projects are fully permitted, but not yet constructed. The new law lets already-permitted projects continue, but only if no amendments to the permit become necessary.
FirstEnergy’s Davis-Besse nuclear plant on the shore of Lake Erie. (Photo by Jeff Reutter via Creative Commons)
Two Ohio utilities are pursuing state and federal regulatory actions to help make their coal and nuclear plants more competitive.
FirstEnergy has filed a complaint asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to void May’s capacity auction by grid operator PJM Interconnection to the extent that it includes demand response. Demand response satisfies electricity needs at peak periods as a result of certain users agreeing to temporary cutbacks.
Meanwhile, American Electric Power (AEP) is asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to let it charge consumers for some of the costs for certain coal-fired power plants.
If they succeed, the utilities could get more money for power plants that presumably could not otherwise compete as well against other resources in the electric capacity market.
(Photo by Carlos Lowry via Creative Commons)
While energy-saving efforts have been keeping costs down for Ohio ratepayers, a legislative “freeze” to the state’s efficiency standard raises questions about whether that will continue, particularly with new EPA carbon regulations on the horizon.
The capacity portion of Ohioans’ electric bills will go up for June 2017 through May 2018 as a result of May’s auction by grid operator PJM Interconnection. If it weren’t for energy efficiency, though, experts say the closing price of $120 per megawatt-day (MW-day) for Ohio and various other parts of PJM’s territory would have been even higher.
Last week’s passage of Ohio Senate Bill 310 raises doubts about how much energy efficiency can help Ohio consumers in future auctions.
A pipeline failure caused an explosion in Fairport Harbor, Ohio in 2011. AP Photo/The News Herald, Michael Allen Blair. (click to enlarge)
Despite ongoing safety concerns and the urging of state regulators, the Ohio legislature has so far passed up an opportunity to impose tougher penalties on those who break safety rules for natural gas pipelines.
Ohio House Bill 483 had a provision to double penalties for safety violations when it was introduced in March. However, the version passed by the Ohio House of Representatives last month eliminated that section.
While fines for violations are rare, resource-strapped regulators say they provide a critical incentive for compliance with safety rules.
HB 483 is part of the Ohio’s Mid-Biennium Budget Review. The Ohio Senate Finance Committee reported the bill out this week, and the Senate passed it on Wednesday. Any differences between the House and Senate versions will require resolution by a conference committee.
Although most of HB 483 addresses other subjects, proposed and deleted energy issues touch on public safety and other concerns.