The Ohio Department of Natural Resources soon will be releasing proposed rules aimed at tightening the state’s rules on drilling for oil and natural gas.
The plan covers a sweeping array of regulations, 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.
Among those new jobs would be engineers at state offices in Green, New Philadelphia and Zanesville, where they could oversee well construction in the Utica shale in eastern Ohio. Currently, the division employs about 110 staffers.
Rick Simmers, chief of the ODNR division, called the new rules “good stuff.”
He said they are needed and will put Ohio in “a much better position” to deal with Utica drilling.
The new rules will strengthen existing regulations, Simmers said Monday in an interview at Malone College in Canton on Monday, adding: “The rules will all reflect substantial change for the good.”
New rules represent 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 it is anticipated that ODNR will release the first packages 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.
Some are voluminous, others are only a few paragraphs, he said.
Provisions in the state budget bill are triggering several of the proposed rules changes. Other are stemming from additional legislation and a few proposed rules were deemed “common sense,” Simmers 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, which 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 already have undergone technical review by experts, Simmers said.
The packages on well pad construction, recycling/processing/treating wastewater and spill prevention largely are done, Simmers said. Most of the rest 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. 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. New rules would require state permits and outline rules on such impoundments or storage tanks.
Simmers said Ohio likely has “several dozen” small surface impoundments. They will not be grandfathered under the new rules, he said.
The lagoons in the Utica shale area likely would 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 freshwater for the fracking process.
Eco-groups say such lagoons are a threat to Ohio’s streams and groundwater.
Such lagoons are common in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Much of fracking’s liquid waste goes into injection wells in Ohio.
Companies that want to recycle fracking wastewater in Ohio will need 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.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.