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State renews waste well permits after 10 month review
New permits are issued for the first time since earthquakes related to injection wells prompted new rules regulating the disposal of fracking waste

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
A fracking well, like this one in Carroll County, generates about 5 million gallons of fracking waste. That wastewater is injected deep underground in one of Ohio's 179 class II waste wells. The state is now granting permits to boost the number of injection wells.
Courtesy of Tim Rudell
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The extraction of oil and gas through horizontal drilling, or fracking, produces roughly five million gallons of toxin laden wastewater with each well.  And although some of that waste is recycled by drillers, most is injected deep underground in separate waste wells.

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports that after a well triggered a series of earthquakes in Youngstown last year, the state is once again permitting new waste wells.

Ohio permits new injection wells

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A shakeup of waste well rules
New Year’s Eve 2011 saw the strongest of nearly a dozen earthquakes last year near Youngstown tied to a deep injection well. 

Experts say pressure from waste injected nearly two miles deep triggered the tremors.  That well remains closed despite the owner’s efforts to resume pumping waste into it.

The earthquake prompted a shakeup of drilling rules at the agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas waste, or class II injection wells, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans.

She says ODNR evaluated the program and what had happened in Youngstown and determined rules needed to be strengthened, "so when we moved forward with siting or permitting new injection wells we would have new requirements and regulations to go with them.”

The department issued the new rules 10 months after the earthquake, and issued the first new permits this week. 

Hetzel-Evans says the new rules prevent drillers from reaching deep into the bedrock that caused the earthquakes.  The rules also require drillers to closely monitor the geology of the well and any seismic activity before, during, and after the drilling.  She says the new rules also require more people to sign off on the permits.

She says ODNR now has peer review by the Ohio EPA and the Division of Geologic Survey, which "gives other experts a chance to look at the same area of review that we look at when we’re taking a look at approving these new wells.”

Compliance is key
In addition to mitigating the risk of earthquakes, Hetzel-Evans says her agency feels the new rules address the public’s concerns about ground water contamination from waste wells.

She says the risk of contamination is low, “As long as they are built to the specifications that we expect, and as long as the operator meets all the requirements including those new testing requirements under law.  Hetzel-Evans says the agency has boosted the number of inspectors dedicated to waste injection wells to seven out of a staff of about 50 inspectors and supervisors. 

Hetzel-Evans notes that in the 30 years the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has been in charge of permitting these oil and gas industry waste wells, there hasn’t been a documented leak into ground water.

More permits in the pipeline
But she also says the state has few other options for disposing of the flood of fracking waste. 

The U.S. EPA says these class II waste wells are the approved method for disposing of oil and gas waste.   Hetzel-Evans says even though the wastewaster from the fracking process may include measurable amounts of dangerous chemicals and radioactive minerals, fracking waste is not treated as hazardous.   

She say the agency does sample testing, but, "it’s very random, we are seeing the exact composition we expected to see.”

The state is gearing up for a boom in the fracking industry which is expected to peak in about two years with hundreds of wells in production and hundreds of millions of gallons of waste being generated.  

An EPA study done in the 1980’s shows dozens of examples of leaks in the past.  But a recent study by Columbus based engineering firm Hull and Associates shows that the risk of groundwater contamination from waste wells using modern technology is low. 

State officials say some 220 waste injection wells will operating by the end of next year, with perhaps more permits in the pipeline.

Listener Comments:

Why can't the state require water from fracking to be treated and recycled?

Posted by: Barbara Coleman (Cleveland, Ohio) on January 2, 2013 9:01AM

No surprise here...

The blind leeding the blind...

A sad day for Ohio and future inhabitants.

Posted by: Gordon Sanek (Geneva On The Lake) on November 16, 2012 3:11AM
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