PIKE TWP. — An oil well field was discovered this week on a 70-acre farm in northwestern Clark County.
Oil was found about 1,700 feet deep days after West Bay Exploration began drilling at the farm along Detrick Jordan Road, said Bob Suver. He and relatives own the farm. “It’s pretty exciting,” he said.
The company began drilling Tuesday after signing a mineral lease to explore for possible oil reserves and obtaining an oil and gas drilling permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The permit granted to the Traverse City, Mich., company is among 358 issued in Ohio this year and the first in Clark County since 1996, according to ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans.
She said traditional oil drilling had declined for years due to low natural gas prices and a sluggish economy.
But Hetzel-Evans said officials have seen an uptick in recent years and expect the numbers to climb due to a new horizontal or hydraulic fracturing also known as fracking, a process in which millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals and sand are injected down wells to break apart shale and free trapped oil and gas.
West Bay is not using the controversial fracking technique, which a 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study said was to blame for groundwater pollution.
Gibson said the company is looking for oil using traditional drilling and said additional testing must be done to determine if there is an ample amount or at least 25,000 barrels of oil at the site.
If so, the company will continue to look for more oil wells in Clark County.
“There could be one in Clark County or there could be many. If we are successful, we will continue testing in Clark County,” Gibson said.
In October, workers sent sound waves into the ground to gather underground images along public right-of-ways in Montgomery, Preble, Miami, Greene and Clark counties to see whether further examinations and drilling would be worthwhile.
Gibson said the only oil and gas well in Clark County is the only one the company has discovered so far, but added it would take weeks to determine if it is “oil producing.”
Larry Wickstrom, state geologist, said Ohio gas and oil production has been on a steady decline since 1984 when 15 million barrels of oil and 188 billion cubic feet of natural gas were obtained. He said the state could at least hit that level again with new drilling.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City, for example, has reportedly spent $1 billion acquiring leases in Ohio without drilling a producing well, a figure reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Several dozen wells could be drilled by year’s end, Wickstrom said. Interest is so high that Chesapeake, he said, is reported to have 120 leasing agents working Ohio. More than 1,200 leases have been signed in Stark and Portage counties each, he said.
Although economic development and jobs would likely accompany any drilling success, Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, is steeling himself for potential protests should drilling become widespread.
“The social push-back will be equally ferocious because people are opposed to development and techniques that could make this work,” Stewart said.
Last week, the Buckeye Forest Council and 50 other environmental groups said ODNR should withhold approval of well permits involving high volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing, exploration or extraction “until such time as these drilling practices are demonstrated to be safe for the environment and human health and are properly and effectively regulated.”
Wickstrom said he’s convinced that safeguards that will be used in the extraction process will not pose any risks to Ohio drinking water.
Suver said he and family members who own the Maple Lawn Farm, including his 92-year-old mother, Martha, said West Bay officials knew exactly where they would find the oil.
“It’s amazing they can project something like that and hit within 50 feet (of where they projected they would find it),” Suver said.
Suver said the farm is one of about 350 acres of farmland that the family owns and is where his late father, Roger, was born.
“My father would have been very excited about it,” Suver said.
Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, sad the discovery could aid Clark County.
“It’s too early to know what the overall impact will be on Clark County, but certainly there’s is potential for an economic impact,” Hobbs said.
Joseph Cronin, a professor at Antioch University Midwest and a member of anti-fracking group Gas and Oil Drilling Awareness and Education in Yellow Springs, said area residents should be concerned about the impact drilling will have on the environment, especially the Miami aquifer.
He said he wants companies to adhere to more regulations to protect the environment and give opportunities for residents who live near drilling sites to get more information and object to plans for well drilling.
“They’re saying it’s safe, but there have been leaks in about a dozen other states,” Cronin said.
Gibson said West Bay has put steel casing in the ground that goes to the bottom of the well for further testing.
He said 75 percent of wells are dry and about 25 percent produce oil.
“We’re optimistic, but we have to wait and see,” Gibson said.
Staff writer Steve Bennish contributed to this story.