Last year was busy for operators of injection wells, Ohio’s approved method for disposing of waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas. More than 14 million barrels of liquid waste, each containing 42 gallons, went down the state’s 180 injection wells, a 12 percent increase from the year before. As Bob Downing, a Beacon Journal staff writer, reported on Sunday, Portage County was No. 1, with more than 2 million barrels, nearly two-thirds from out of state.
As the oil and gas boom in Ohio continues, there are few alternatives available for handling liquid drilling waste, which contains toxic chemicals, naturally occurring radiation and heavy metals. Stopping waste from entering the state is not possible, courts ruling such shipments are interstate commerce, and constitutionally protected.
Thankfully, Ohio has tight rules on injection wells and has revoked permits for Youngstown companies that spilled drilling waste and operated injection wells that were linked to a series of earthquakes along a previously unknown fault line. But shutting down all injection wells, as some environmental groups urge, is not a realistic option.
Injection wells have operated in Ohio since the 1930s. What is important now, as the volume of liquid drilling waste increases from both within and outside the state, is that rules covering injection wells are enforced aggressively by an adequately funded state Department of Natural Resources. Part of the funding could come from an increase in the state’s severance tax on oil and natural gas, so far rejected by the legislature.
As with other aspects of hydraulic fracturing, a single mistake can create long-term damage to the environment and human health.