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Ohio Utica Shale

Ohio conducts June spot checks on injection wells

By Bob Downing Published: August 13, 2012

From today's Columbus Dispatch:

By Spencer Hunt

Environmental advocates say the state’s refusal to conduct regular, comprehensive tests for toxic chemicals in the millions of gallons of ’fracking’ wastes sent down Ohio disposal wells puts the public in jeopardy.

’Folks have a right to know what’s being injected into the ground, both during the fracking process and during disposal,’ said Cheryl Johncox, the director of the Buckeye Forest Council.

State and federal officials say that the 171 privately operated disposal wells are safe, but environmental advocates call fracking waste a threat to public health.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources does conduct spot checks, officials there say, to look for many of the toxic chemicals environmental advocates say they are concerned about. Two spot checks were done in late June, a few days after protesters demonstrated at an Athens County disposal well. No problems were found, said Carlo LoParo, an agency spokesman.

The two June tests were the first random checks the state has performed.

Regular tests aren’t necessary, said Rick Simmers, chief of the agency’s oil and gas division, because the wells permanently trap wastes deep underground.

’It’s the safest way overall to get rid of these wastes,’ Simmers said.

Pennsylvania and West Virginia do test disposal wells regularly, but they do not look for fracking chemicals. Instead, the tests measure salt content, iron and other common ingredients of oil- and gas-well wastes.

’It’s really to protect the (disposal well) operator,’ said James Peterson, a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection program manager. ’You want to make sure you are not getting something that will clog the well or ruin the filters.’

The fracking process injects millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to shatter the shale and to free trapped oil and gas. Disposal wells are the state’s preferred method to deal with the fluid that bubbles back up from recently fracked wells. Shale wells also can keep producing ’brine’ — salt water tainted with toxic metals and radioactive elements — for years.

Last year, Ohio disposal wells injected about 12.2 million barrels of fracking wastes and brine into disposal wells. Fifty-three percent came from shale wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. More brine is expected as oil and gas companies frack the Utica shale in eastern Ohio.

Ohio requires disposal-well operators to send analyses of brine from new wells before they are injected, Simmers said. As in other states, the tests measure how much salt, dissolved solids and metals are present in the water.

None of the tests looks for commonly used fracking compounds, including ethylene glycol, which can damage the kidneys, nervous system, lungs and heart.

Though oil and gas companies disclose most of the fracking compounds they use, several are kept confidential. They are listed as trade secrets in state and federal reports.

Teresa Mills, Ohio organizer for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, said state and federal rules governing disposal wells must be updated so that tests cover all chemicals and compounds.

’Those are tests that were done on your grandfather’s oil and gas well,’ Mills said. ’This is a totally different waste now.’

The state ran more-comprehensive tests that covered a longer list of chemicals and metals on June 28 and June 29 at two injection wells in Athens and Portage counties. LoParo said state officials decided to test the Athens well after environmental advocates protested about it on June 26. He said the Portage County well was a random test.

Tests found barium, strontium, benzene and toluene in brine planned for injection at both wells. Simmers said the compounds are common in oil and gas well wastes and disposal wells are meant to safely contain them.

Aside from spot checks, Simmers said more tests aren’t necessary. He said quarterly inspections and annual integrity tests are more important to determine if wells are leak-free.

Such assurances are unlikely to calm protesters concerned about disposal wells. Two protesters tried to block entrances to Ohio disposal sites this summer.

shunt@dispatch.com

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Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

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.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

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Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

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.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.