The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will soon be releasing proposed rules to tighten up Ohio’s rules on natural gas-oil drilling.
The plan covers a sweeping array of drilling rules, many highly technical, from well-pad construction to wastewater treatment, processing and recycling.
Proposals include new spill prevention rules, requiring that well drilling pads be approved by state engineers, live tracking of trucks hauling drilling wastes and finalizing rules and permits for temporary above-ground football field-sized storage pits for fresh water or wastewater.
In connection with the new rules, Ohio is planning to hire an additional 40 staffers in 2014 for its Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management, officials said.
That includes hiring state engineers at its offices in Green, New Philadelphia and Zanesville where they can oversee well construction in the Utica shale in eastern Ohio. Those are new positions. The division has about 110 staffers.
The new rules are "good stuff," said Rick Simmers, chief of the ODNR division. The new rules, he said, are needed and will put Ohio in "a much better position" to deal with Utica drilling.
The new rules will "strengthen what’s there now a lot," he said in an interview at Malone College in Canton on Monday. "The rules will all reflect substantial change for the good."
The new rules are just another step in the process that has made Ohio’s regulatory system one of the "most stringent and robust in the United States," said Shawn Bennett of Energy in Depth-Ohio, a pro-drilling trade group.
There are between 15 and 20 proposed rule packages being drafted, and the first packages will likely be released by ODNR in late December or early January, Simmers said.
After the first ones are released, others will follow a few weeks apart until all are out, he said.
Some are voluminous and some are only a few paragraphs, he said.
The new rules drafted by Simmers’ agency were triggered by provisions of Senate Bill 315 and House Bill 59 (the state budget bill). Senate Bill 315 was signed by Gov. John Kasich in June 2012. House Bill 59 was signed last June 30. Other requirements came from Senate Bill 155 signed by Kasich on Jan. 24, 2012.
A few proposed rules were deemed common-sense necessary, Simmers said.
The final number of rule packages is unclear, he said. His agency is looking at perhaps 17, but some could be combined and the actual number will likely be between 15 and 20, he said.
The proposed rules must be submitted to the state’s Common Sense Initiative under Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR).
JCARR is a committee of five members of the Ohio House of Representatives and five members of the Senate who must judge on the acceptability of all new state rules.
The JCARR review includes a 30-day public-comment period on each rule package submitted.
The rule packages have already under gone technical review by experts, he said.
The proposed rules on well pad construction, recycling-processing-treating wastewater and spill prevention are all largely done, Simmers said.
Most of the rest, he said, are "in early phases" and will require significant time and work to complete.
The wastewater or fresh-water lagoons may run into opposition from drilling opponents.
The proposed rules would outline construction standards and how long they can be used.
Such storage pits are permitted under Ohio law but there are no rules on their construction or use. But the new rules would require state permits and outline new rules on such impoundments or storage tanks.
Ohio likely has about "several dozen" small surface impoundments now, Simmers said. They will not be grand fathered in under the new rules, he said.
The lagoons in the Utica shale area would likely be larger: the size of football fields and could hold tens of millions of gallons of wastewater until it is treated or recycled. They would likely include synthetic liners.
Such pits or lagoons would contain salt and dissolved solids, fracking chemicals, toxic heavy metals and low-level radiation from the rocks. Or fresh water for the fracking process.
Eco-groups say such lagoons are a threat to Ohio’s streams and groundwater.
Simmers says he does not see the impoundments being a threat.
Much of that liquid waste goes into injection wells in Ohio today.
Such lagoons are common in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Companies that want to recycle fracking wastewater in Ohio will require state permits.
At present, there is no permitting required and Ohio has no control over wastes being recycled.
Those rules will go into effect Jan. 1 on an interim basis until final rules are adopted.
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.