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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ohio River Targeted By Drillers: Going Beneath Streambed For Oil And Gas Wells

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Offshore drilling for oil and gas appears headed for the Ohio River, which may have valuable energy pools locked up in the geological strata deep beneath the waterway's channel. Officials in Ashland, Ky., approved two leases last week with a Colorado exploration company that plans to look for natural gas under the river. There has been no discussion about any potential environmental risks from such wells, which apparently will be drilled horizontally by rigs based near the Ohio side of the shoreline in Lawrence County.

Ohio has banned oil and gas offshore drilling in Lake Erie. There has been fear of polluting and despoiling a priceless freshwater supply. During discussions about protecting Lake Erie over the years, the topic of regulating drilling under the Ohio River appears not to have ever been seriously considered. Almost all of the Ohio River is in Kentucky, which is where any royalties would be paid. The Ohio border is near the 1792 low-water mark, which has been decided by federal court rulings over the years.

Adam Stover, an official with Nytis Exploration Company LLC, told Boyd County, Ky., officials last week that the firm would drill straight down several thousand feet, then horizontally to get under the riverbed. He said the drilling will take place in Ohio, but that the money will be paid to Boyd County.

"By doing this, Boyd County will get money and we won't even be on their property at all. They in no way have to worry about any external damages."

Carrie Kirshner, a reporter with The Independent in Ashland, has the full story and notes that horizontal drilling is becoming more common in the Appalachian basin, a huge multi-state oil and gas field that runs from New York to Alabama and includes a large portion of Ohio. The Appalachian basin, in fact, is the nation's original oil field and was the first ever tapped in 1859 when the Drake Oil Well struck black gold in Pennsylvania. Eventually, the oil field became the source of the Rockefeller riches and Standard Oil, the forerunner of modern oil companies such as Exxon and Chevron. There is more about the energy industry's renewed interest in the Appalachian basin in this news story that originally appeared in The Plain Dealer a little over two years ago. (I happened to be the PD reporter who wrote the story; it was part of the newspaper's series on tightening energy supplies.)

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