The volume of drilling wastes injected in Ohio grew by nearly 15 percent last year, almost entirely due to increasing in-state Utica shale production.
Data compiled from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources show that Ohio accepted more than 16.3 million barrels of liquid waste in 2013 — enough to fill a train of tanker cars nearly 242 miles long.
Waste volume from out-of-state drilling sources remained basically the same from 2012 to 2013. The sharp change came from in-state, as liquids produced in Ohio grew from 5.9 million barrels to nearly 8.1 million barrels, an increase of 36.7 percent.
Trumbull County was the No. 1 destination for the liquid waste in 2013, with more than 2.3 million barrels pumped into underground storage there. Portage County ranked second at almost 2 million barrels. Stark County was ninth with 607,698 barrels.
“Those numbers are not surprising and seem reasonable based on what’s been happening,” in the drilling industry, said Jeffrey Dick, a geology professor at Youngstown State University and an expert on Ohio’s Utica shale.
The growing Utica shale boom in eastern Ohio is fueling the increase in wastes injected underground in Ohio, said Mike Chadsey, a spokesman for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a statewide trade group.
Teresa Mills, an activist from Columbus, used information from the ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management to compile the county-by-county data. The state does not provide that kind of breakdown of injection totals.
Mills and other activists say they are troubled by the growing volume and the growing number of injection wells in Ohio. They are concerned such wells have triggered earthquakes in Mahoning County and in other drilling states.
Injection wells also threatened groundwater, she said.
Mills said she is “more and more troubled by the threat from injection wells every day.”
“This is all a numbers game,” she said. “There is still a lot of volume that is not accounted for ... The amount of waste fluids being injected is not the total amount of waste fluids coming into Ohio.”
Mills said Ohioans have no idea how much drilling waste is going to current recycling facilities in Ohio or to 23 new facilities ODNR has permitted to handle such wastes.
Industry and state officials say injection wells are a safe disposal method and the growing volume of waste is simply evidence of the Utica and Marcellus shale booms in Ohio and surrounding states.
According to Mills’ report, Ohio in 2013 took in a grand total of 8,076,820 barrels of waste from in-state drillers and 8,277,964 barrels from out of state. (Ohio later reported the in-state total at 8,109,300 barrels.)
With each barrel holding 42 gallons, that means that Ohio’s 2013 total is equal to nearly 687 million gallons of the briny waste that often contains high levels of dissolved solids, certain heavy metals and low levels of radiation.
Ohio had 194 active injection wells, as of Dec. 31. Today, there are 201 with another 34 permitted but not operational.
Ohio drillers have not had problems finding injection wells with available capacity for disposal, said Chadsey of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.
In 2012, Portage County led the state by taking in 2.3 million barrels of waste. Trumbull County (the Warren area) was No. 3 with 1.4 million barrels.
Trumbull has put several large-volume injection wells into operation, Dick said of that county’s dramatic rise in volume from 2012 to 2013. And its closer proximity to Pennsylvania compared to Portage could explain the changing numbers.
Trumbull, Portage and Stark counties all have layers of shallow Clinton sandstone below ground that are suitable for injection wells, he said.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.