I haven’t cut too many shared bylines, but fellow staff writer Sam Allard and I began a long-term reporting project earlier this year as we started looking into the oil and gas drilling industry’s moves into Ohio. For this story, the first of however many, we attended the Marcullus-Utica Midstream Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., and spoke with several leading stakeholders around Northeast Ohio on both sides of the for/against fracking argument.
The conventional wisdom on oil and gas drilling trajectories goes something like this: There’s a boom, and then there’s a bust. No one much considers the bust amid the boom, and right now business is booming in Ohio.
Sometime in 1859, a blacksmith named William Jeffrey plugged the loamy earth in Trumbull County with Ohio’s first oil well. There are now more than 200,000 oil and gas wells dotting the Buckeye State. Some are very small and localized operations. Others are behemoths in the most visual sense of the word, vomiting black gold and natural gas to export terminals along the Gulf, the Canadian provinces and locations more exotic.
Ohio’s modern oil and gas drilling kicked off with boom cycles in the 1960s, where the Trempealeau Dolomite “play” brought prospecting corporations out to Morrow County, that bucolic stretch of I-71 between Mansfield and Columbus. (In industry vernacular, a vast, unified stretch of resource-soaked bedrock is called a “play.”) Since then, the drilling has never really stopped. As the Trempealeau Dolomite began coughing up millions of barrels of oil, profiteers tapped the Rose Run reservoir in Ashland County and then set sights on southeast Ohio’s Trenton and Clinton Sandstone plays.
What we’re witnessing now is the ravaging of the Marcellus formation, which, when discovered and probed with 21st-century horizontal-drilling technology, shifted gravitational centers from Texas and the Dakotas toward bedrock sprawled across western Pennsylvania. The Utica, a deeper play with a greater concentration of rich, wet natural gas in eastern Ohio, is where the action’s been lately. Since 2000, the Ohio-Pennsylvania border and surrounding acreage has become the hottest drilling tip in the world.