COLUMBUS -- An Ohio legislative panel approved new rules Monday for the construction of oil and gas drilling wells, amid an underground shale exploration boom in the state.
The state's rule-setting committee also cleared new guidelines for drilling permits and set certain industry standards, primarily affecting wells in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations.
Larry Wolpert, executive director of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, said the panel must clear or reject rules based on technical criteria not policy. He said no one objected to the rules, which conform regulations to a bill passed two years ago.
The new rules are expected to take effect Aug. 1.
The panel did not take up any of the environmental or public health concerns debated at public forums in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and other states involving hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
A Sierra Club spokesman said the group considers the committee action as procedural.
In the rush to release new deposits as a result of advances in horizontal drilling, Ohio has issued 207 new permits for wells in the Utica Shale in eastern Ohio over a year's period that ended in March.
Monthly permits rose tenfold over that time.
Fracking involves blasting millions of gallons of water, mixed with chemicals and sand, at the underground shale to create fissures in the rock and release gas and oil deposits.
Environmentalists and people living near drilling sites say the risks include contaminated water wells and air pollution.
The industry says those fears are exaggerated and the process has been used safely on tens of thousands of wells.