The Ohio Department of Natural Resources was strangely absent in the wake of a major natural gas well fire on June 28 in southeast Ohio, critics say.
The agency’s lack of involvement in the well fire in Monroe County was called "quite alarming" by attorney Nathan Johnson of the Ohio Environmental Council in a Wednesday teleconference.
"Where was ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management in this situation?" he asked. "It’s not clear where they were and what they were doing."
An 11-page report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates that the state agency was not actively involved in the fire until July 1, three days after the well pad near Clarington went up in flames, and the agency was involved sporadically after July 1.
Those are "shocking findings," said OEC spokeswoman Melanie Houston.
The parties initially involved were the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. EPA and Statoil, the report says.
ODNR disagreed with the federal report.
"Inspectors from ODNR were on scene within hours of being notified of an emergency, conducting critical safety measures to ensure the safety of the first responders and the community as well as to mitigate environmental impact," said spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle.
"After any incident, especially one of this magnitude with so many partners involved, we self-evaluate to see where best management practices could occur and how we can improve. We’ll continue to critique our rules, actions and legislation to ensure the citizens of Ohio are properly protected," she said.
It took ODNR two days before it requested information on what proprietary chemicals had been used by Statoil North America, the Norway-based company that is developing the well, and it cannot share that information with other parties under Ohio law, Johnson said.
Such behavior by the state agency given sole authority over drilling in Ohio is troubling, Johnson said.
The fire and explosion occurred about 9 a.m. June 28. The fire reportedly was the result of a broken hydraulic line that sprayed fluid on hot equipment. About 25 houses were evacuated.
The U.S. EPA responded that night to find numerous fires burning on the well pad that contained a horizontal well being drilled and up to 25,000 gallons of different chemicals. Up to 16 different chemicals were involved, some of which were labeled trade secrets and not immediately known to first responders.
Up to 30 explosions rocked the site and shrapnel was a major concern. Several local fire departments responded. The fire smoldered for six days. Liquids from the well drained onto the pad. Runoff from the pad entered a unnamed tributary that flows into Opossum Creek that drains into the Ohio River. An estimated 70,000 fish were killed.
The federal report says that it was five days before Halliburton, the company drilling the well for Statoil, provided a complete list of all chemicals used.
Ohio needs to revise its laws to assure that such information is more readily available to participating agencies, said Johnson and Teresa Mills of the Virginia-based Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
Drillers don’t have to reveal what chemicals they are using until 60 days after a well is hydraulically fractured or fracked.
That means that "Ohio is playing a dangerous game of hide and seek" with chemical disclosures, especially if problems arise before such reports are filed, Mills said.
ODNR also lacks the experience and training to properly handle chemical spills like the EPAs, and that’s a big problem, she said.
The activists called on Gov. John Kasich to issue executive orders to revise Ohio’s laws on drilling chemicals. They also want ODNR to issue stricter rules on drilling. Many of those rules have been in the works for months.
Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.
Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.
Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.
The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.
Earthjustice, a national eco-group.
People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.
Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.
No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.
Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.
Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.
Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.