Athens Fracking Advisory Group Prepares To Produce Report In Six Months

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A new committee appointed by the Athens County Commission is starting to learn about all things fracking.

It's a process which will lead to a report about deep shale development in the county.

The Strategic Advisory Committee on Hydraulic Fracturing convened for the first time this past week.

"We have a diverse group of people representing different perspectives and abilities from participants from within the county and I think we all had a very good discussion about what each of our perspectives were on the issues that Athens County might be facing in terms of the deep shale development and injection wells in particular as a near term issue that we seem to be looking at,"  said Al Blazevicus, chairman of the committee.

Blazevicus said he thinks the committee's first meeting was a success.

"I think that, you know, the first meeting you're all trying to get to understand each other and know each other and know what each other’s positions are and I think as we went through that process, we got to understand that there is a lot of overlap of things that we think  are important to address and look at relative to deep shale development or if deep shale development doesn't happen in a big way, in terms of drilling in Athens County, that there are other issues related to that like injection well and frack waste disposal that do need to be looked at that may be affecting us more immediately and importantly in the near term," he said. 

The Strategic Advisory Committee on Hydraulic Fracturing was formed after weeks of sometimes contentious discussion.

Athens County seemed on the verge of an oil and gas drilling boom, thanks to the controversial technique of fracking.

"We'll be making the recommendation based on our studies and consultation with experts and government agencies and wherever we find the necessary expertise. We've got a lot of people who have been studying the laws and regulations that are on the committee so we will try to put all of that information together and come up with our best set of recommendations to present to the commissioners which they will then, uh, need to choose which actions they will then take," Blazevicus said.

The committee has eight members. Blazevicius says they are a diverse group.

He himself is a retired engineer and the owner of a 150 acre farm.

"I look at it not so much as pro or anti-fracking so much as I see that some people on the committee are wary of the regulations and sufficiency of the regulations and other people are more comfortable with it and would like less regulations," he said. "I think that's part of how the commissioners selected this group was that I don't think anyone here is truly a staunch pro or anti-fracker. I think they're all open minded people that are willing to look at all, all the issues appropriately to understand what's best for the county and for everyone involved, not just for someone who doesn't benefit economically or doesn't own their mineral rights. I think we got a good group that can actually look at a broad set of issues and try to find a consensual medium."

Blazevicius says the immediate goal is to produce a report for the County Commission and have it done in about six months.

"We've set up our initial discussions around a charter and are still talking about a sort of six-month project where we can assess the state of the industry, the state of current regulations, the state of injection wells and fracking in Athens County and then make appropriate recommendations at that point," he said. "So we want to see what can be accomplished during that period of time and at that point, I'll guess we'll have to determine, you know, is that sufficient for what is actually happening in Athens County? Have we addressed our imminent need? Or would there be some increase in activity that would require us to keep working and doing more?" 

Blazevicius says the group also is looking to have some input on oil and gas drilling matters under consideration by the state legislature.

"The major issues that I think we're looking at are the water testing, injection well, water issues, quality and procurement, uh, injection wells and any associated problems with injection wells,  including road use issues that we're currently experiencing. Then there is a lot of legislation that's currently being considered at the state level in the next two months where we feel that we would like to have some input on that state legislation," he said. "So we will be studying the existing [regulations] and the proposed new [regulations] from Kasich's energy bill, S.B. 315 and getting it to that in more detail so that we can make a recommendation as to what we believe are the best industry practices. [We will] see if those can be incorporated into state [regulations]. If they're not fully incorporating state [regulations], I'm hoping that could become a baseline of how we would like to see these procedures happen, should they come to Athens County."