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New center focuses on subsurface energy

Ohio State has created the Subsurface Energy Resource Center with intentions of researching and educating students on Ohio’s shale energy industry.

Shale oil is organic-rich sedimentary rock under the earths surface, which energy can be extracted. It is obtained through complicated and sometimes expensive drilling.

Co-directors and OSU professors Jeffrey Daniels, an earth science professor at OSU, and Douglas Southgate, an agricultural, environmental and development economics professor, will lead the center.

The SERC was created to lead the way in exploring new subsurface energy options in Ohio such as horizontal drilling of hydrocarbon-bearing shale.

“With the drilling that has already been done, the potential is quite high and very encouraging for further development,” Daniels said. “It is what really is driving it right now, a real need in the state and in the country for expertise.”

The center will function as a means for faculty to collaborate and communicate on research projects that focus on energy development both statewide and nationwide, Daniels said.

Despite the fact that shale deposits are nothing new, the recent technical advances are making exploiting shale a large industry, which will make shale development the key focus of SERC, Southgate said.

“Shale gas is really what started our thinking about the energy center, but the center will also incorporate other types of energy and touch on development and environmental issues as we move forward,” Daniels said.

The SERC could put OSU at the center of talks about subsurface energy development.

Daniels said the center will allow other universities and agencies to participate in the active discussion.

Traditionally, drill holes are vertical.

“The holes are drilled down vertically until they reach formation. In the past, the formations were usually sandstone and limestone, which oil and gas are produced from,” Daniels said.

Technological advancements have allowed drills to hit a layer of rock, and turn the drill bit parallel with the surface.

Then, by drilling horizontally, the shale rock is fractured using high pressure fluids, that are 95 to 99 percent water, and the gas is released from the rock.

The gas then goes into the drill bit hole, and is later extracted, Daniels said.

“It is a very simple, revolutionary process. The two technologies, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, have made shale gas drilling possible,” Daniels said.

Although it is a simple process, the procedure for collecting the shale deposits is a controversial method because the chemicals used contain heavy metals which are a threat to groundwater and streams.

Southgate said the drilling has to be done in an environmentally-friendly way to avoid poisoning the soil, water and air.

Daniels and Southgate agree that the new advances in technology will make this an ongoing process.

“(This is) not something that will be short lived,” Daniels said. “It will have a huge impact on the state economy and jobs.”

In addition to creating jobs for the state, the developing shale energy industry is also going to affect individuals that own land.

“It is a big, big deal for landowners,” Southgate said. “They are being offered $3,000 to $4,000 (per acre) for mineral rights, to be able to sell the resources that are under their surface.”

“The shale deposits which contain the oil and natural gas will be a feed stock for the chemical industry because of its enormous value.”

Daniels said the creation of the center will increase communication.

“That will obviously increase our opportunities to conduct research in this area and ensure that our students are informed about subsurface energy developments,” Daniels said.

Justin Gerhardinger, a fifth-year in economics, said there is a fine line between exploiting the deposits and doing it in an environmentally-friendly way.

“I believe if exploiting the natural gas deposits in Ohio is done with the proper regulations in place, the job creation and tax revenues in our state could immediately impact our economic recovery and outlook,” Gerhardinger said.

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