Enter Utica: The Fracking Industry Really Loves Ohio; Here’s What’s on Tap for All of Us

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.

An excerpt:

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.

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Caged: How Ohio Politicians Keep the State’s Puppy Mill Business Booming with Little Regulation

I had been following Ohio’s work on puppy mill regulations since Kyle Swenson published the first Scene dispatch from Holmes County back in 2010. Since then, little had changed. Little had been done to actually protect the dogs in question and force breeders to follow even simply a handful of rules. So I traveled south to figure out what was going on.

An dog rescue organizer and advocate drove me around Holmes County and surrounding areas. She told me stories of what happened to the dogs in the past and in the present. Economic pressures had squeezed out most of the smaller puppy operations since Swenson’s report, but the market had mostly consolidated into the big players – breeders who ran massive operations and got close to political leaders. Relationships had been formed among those people who treated puppies as business and the folks in Columbus who pulled the real strings.

Again, little had changed.

An excerpt:

A slanted roof covers a row of tiny cages growing hot in the morning sun. From half a mile across otherwise gentle farmland, what appears to be a lone Yorkie can be seen sitting idly and watching passing cars and buggies.

Puppy kennels—”puppy mills” in the more oppositional colloquy—are easy to spot from the circuitous roads of rural countrysides around Northeast Ohio. The heart of the commercial dog breeding industry in Ohio lies mostly within and around Amish Country—Holmes County, south of Wooster, and neighboring Tuscarawas, Ashland and Guernsey counties. Winding roads weave in and among hills, and gravelly driveways jut off at odd intervals. Now and then, a series of buildings crop upward out of the land. These are homes, barns, silos, storage areas. But often enough, tucked among the other buildings are small kennels built for small animals. In the past decade, in many cases, puppies have lived in them.

There’s nothing secretive about the mills. But there’s certainly a darkness about them that gets brushed under the regions’ handwoven rugs.

“We have Yorkies and we have Westies,” a young Amish woman says as a prospective customer sidles up to the house and broaches the subject. She doesn’t let the customer wander too far off the rocky driveway; rather, she dispatches four of her children to cull a couple of puppies from the kennel behind the garage. For the most part, buyers don’t get a good look at the conditions of these makeshift homes and breeding grounds. “They are…eh, how old now? Four weeks old now,” the woman says, squinting into the morning sun.

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