An estimated 30,000 Ohioans live within 650 feet of an underground natural gas storage well, according to a study published this week in the journal Environmental Health.
The study examined storage facilities in six states, finding that 65 percent of wells are in urban and suburban areas. The wells hold natural gas before delivery to businesses and households.
“Looking at these wells, I realized that they were in people’s backyards,” said lead author Drew Michanowicz, a research associate at Harvard University’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment. “They were in neighborhoods — somewhat different than you might think of new, unconventional wells in rural areas.”
Many wells appear to predate the development that grew up around them, he said. Michanowicz said he hopes the research will offer more insight into a part of the natural gas supply chain that isn’t often discussed.
In 2015 and 2016, a months-long leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility in Southern California led to the displacement of thousands from the area. SoCalGas later paid out a nearly $120 million settlement over the leak.
Such leaks of methane from storage wells can contribute to climate change, Michanowicz said. State data on leaks in Ohio was not immediately available.
Ohio’s storage wells are clustered in several places across the state, including southern Lorain County, between Mansfield and Wooster, northwest of Canton and south of Lancaster.
“When you look at the storage wells in the Stark, Summit and Wayne County areas that are from Dominion, those date back to the 1940s, well before that area became populated,” Ohio Oil and Gas Association spokesman Mike Chadsey said.
Congress approved new regulations for pipelines and storage facilities in the wake of the Aliso Canyon leak. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued rules in late 2016, but stayed the enforcement of some regulations in June 2017.
In addition to Ohio, the study looked at wells in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Michigan and California. Researchers from Boston, Duke and Columbia universities, as well as Harvard Law School and Boston Children’s Hospital, joined Michanowicz as authors. The study was funded by the Heinz Endowments and the Environmental Defense Fund.