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Environment


Hundreds of millions of gallons of liquid waste trucked to Ohio
And it may be the best alternative from both business and environmental points of view
by WKSU's TIM RUDELL


Reporter
Tim Rudell
 
The well. This is the actual well head from which the pipes go into the ground. In this case, it is at the Pander Trucking Co. well near Newton Falls and the pipes run down close to a mile.
Courtesy of Rudell
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In The Region:

The shale gas boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other parts of the Northeast is generating hundreds of millions of gallons of chemical-laced waste water.  It has to go somewhere. And increasingly, that somewhere is here.  WKSU’s Tim Rudell reports on why Ohio is already home to the third greatest number of disposal wells in the country, and is likely to see many more.

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Wells for different purposes

Two kinds of wells tied to the oil and gas boom are cropping up around Ohio. Both are called “injection” wells because companies force a brew of salt-water with detergents and toxic heavy-metal lubricants into them.

The first kind is getting a lot of attention. That’s because these wells are the high-pressure paths through which fluid is "injected" to crack apart shale releasing trapped oil and gas. It’s a now high-profile process called “fracking,” and Ohio is expected to get a big piece of that business.

But, due to Ohio’s geology, geography and even its bureaucracy, the second kind of injection well--the disposal well--is also becoming big business here.

Disposal

Once the shale is fractured much of the “fracking fluid” comes back out of a well.  Some of that is recycled, but most is trucked to a disposal well and pumped back under ground.

Robert Boyd just pulled up with twelve thousand gallons at a disposal site near Hartville in northern Stark County. “We pick up at wells, and pump the water away from the oil.  Then we shut her down, and bring the water here.  Where they filter it through the cartridge filters, and the like, and then we pump it back under ground, where it came from.”

Boyd is hauling one of the thousands of loads of frac-water going every day to disposal wells around Ohio--where there are 170 of them.  That’s 10 times more disposal wells than surrounding states have.

Why Ohio

Geology is part of the reason. Ohio has massive sandstone formations thousands of feet down that are said to be ideal for permanent fluid disposal…which is not the case in Pennsylvania, for example.  And, Ohio Department of Natural Resources well inspector David Claus says that is why more than half of what is currently being pumped into Ohio disposal wells is from out-of-state. “A lot of the brine for disposal is coming from over there, and we’ve seen an increase in permit requests for injection wells here in Ohio.  With excess water to dispose of, companies are looking to drill new injection wells, and are also converting production wells into injection wells.”

Claus’s colleague at the Department of Natural Resources is geologist Tom Tomastik. He says the underground formations are part of what’s drawing so much waste water to Ohio. But regulatory practices are a factor, too.  Unlike most states, Ohio has independent authority to issue permits for wells that can absorb the frac-water.

Primacy

That’s an authority usually reserved for the federal EPA.  But in1983, Ohio came up with a program that it said meets or exceeds federal regulations and Washington gave Columbus what’s called “primacy:” the authority to do its own permitting.  Tomastik offered an example of how state standards sometimes exceed federal ones. “We do what’s called continuous mechanical integrity monitoring.  Pipe that you are injecting through is set and sealed to make sure the injection fluid does not migrate.  And, the U.S. EPA only requires mechanical integrity testing every five years.  We’re doing this continuously.”

Faster permit processing

But, what makes Ohio’s primacy attractive to well-drillers is that while the state typically takes two or three months to say yes or no to a permit request, The federal EPA takes up to two years.

Environmentalist Perspective

Dave Simons is a northeast Ohio environmentalist and member of the state Sierra Club.

He acknowledges the shale-drilling boom is not going away.  So he says environmentalists need to focus on the best way to manage it – including the waste water. And he says most experts he’s talked with agree that injection wells are the best way. His problem, though, is that all injection well are not – by definition – equal. 

Ohio allows five classes of wells.  Class 1 wells are for hazardous material and have the most rigorous safety designs. Class 2 wells are for things like frac-water, and are less heavy duty.  But Simons is concerned that the state won't have the manpower to watch over the potential surge in disposal activity at those wells.  “Due to the huge volumes that are expected—billions of gallons from thousands of wells—Ohio Department of Natural Resources might not effectively and properly permit and manage waste water disposal.  So, we feel that fracking waste ware should be disposed of in Class 1 hazardous injection wells…that have numerous additional safeguards.”

There can be a lot to it

The wells themselves are not the only concern tied to getting rid of fracking’s leftovers. Bernard Goldstein is an environmental and public health sciences professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He says there is an entire system to consider.  “What I would like to see is a more holistic approach to the issue. So, for example, if we’re going to be trucking these large volumes long distances, and you’re looking at comparative safety, you should look not just at the technology, but at things such as the likelihood of truck accidents.”

Disposal well operator

R.C. Pander runs a disposal well operation in northeast Ohio.  He says he has small children of his own so he is keenly aware of environmental questions, and supports continued research. But, he believes injection disposal is the one part of the process that’s proven.  “It’s time tested, and it works. Water has been injected into our first well since the ‘70s. It’s still taking water today. And, there are no problems there. It’s monitored. Historically there’ve been no problems; and there are no problems today.”

Economic benefit

Pander says the drilling boom is already helping local small businesses. His own work forces has gone from 23 to 35 in the past year.  Gov. John Kasich is touting an industry study that predicts fracking will be worth billions of dollars and more than 200-thousand jobs to Ohio by 2015.


Related WKSU Stories

Fracking could bring more jobs to Ohio
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ohio counties already seeing effects of fracking
Tuesday, August 2, 2011

OH can learn from PA about fracking
Monday, August 1, 2011

Shale may mean jobs and money for Ohio
Friday, July 29, 2011

Area landowners are signing over drilling rights in droves
Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ohio tries to figure out what to do with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water used in fracking
Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Environmentalists want to hold oil fracking in Ohio for one year
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Listener Comments:

Here Here Leon. Most of this water should be treated so that the fracking industry can use it again if for no other reason. Clean drinking water is a luxury we take far too much for granted. I say they should be forced to recycle this contaminated water. With the billions of dollars in profits the oil industry wrings from the American consumer they can certainly afford to build a recycle plant to handle this.


Posted by: John L Sullivan (Kansas City / Akron) on October 12, 2011 8:10AM
People have expressed legitimate concern about groundwater being contaminated by the fracture drilling process and disposal wells. That could very well be a problem but we need more data. In the meantime, however, what about the millions of gallons of fresh water that are taken from the local area, DELIBERATELY contaminated for fracking, and then injected deep underground where it can NEVER be used again? Aren't we permanently "destroying" one of the most precious resources we have - clean water? Shouldn't the companies be required to RECYCLE most the formerly drinkable water rather than "disposing" such a vital resource for centuries? Given the added uncertainty of what climate change may do to the local rainfall patterns and future supply of fresh water, it seems irresponsible to ruin so much of our vital fresh water.


Posted by: Leon Perkowski (Kent OH) on October 4, 2011 10:10AM
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