STREETSBORO: Two men stroll in from the Streetsboro shopping plaza with water-filled Mason jars wrapped in plastic grocery bags.
“Mine’s a little rusty,” Lake Milton resident Istvan Domonkos tells the volunteers who greet him at the door of the King of Glory Church off state Route 303.
Domonkos hands over his jar and sits down with 40 others who brought in well-water samples that they suspect might be contaminated by gas and oil drilling.
In the back room, George Sosebee injects silver nitrate titrant from an eyedropper into a water sample from the Kline family, who live in the northeastern corner of Portage County.
With each droplet, the water turns murkier. After about 20 drops, Sosebee concludes that the level of chloride in the Klines’ now rose-colored tap water is beyond measuring — at least with the method he is using.
“It’s the worst one I’ve had so far,” he said, twisting the vial under the light.
Sosebee and eight other volunteers from Concerned Citizens of Ohio, a coalition against hydraulic fracturing in gas and oil drilling, scurried through the church Sunday afternoon, testing the levels and characteristics of well water for citizens like themselves who live on the fringe of an oil boom in Northeast Ohio.
Debby and Jason Kline awaited their test results in a room that usually houses a Sunday sermon.
The couple with three children live on Silica Sand Road in northeastern Portage County. Their home near Garrettsville is hidden among a sea of dots that indicate oil and gas wells on a government map, housed on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website.
Within a mile of their home, two wells have been abandoned and another has recently been hydraulically fractured, or fracked, to stimulate natural gas production.
The heightened anxiety felt by most at the water-testing event has been fueled by an influx in natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracture waste, or brine, disposal. In Portage County, 16 wells permanently accept brine in 1,000-foot shafts that run below water tables. The county ties Stark with the highest number of injection wells.
But it’s not the disposal that has the Kline family concerned. It’s the drilling. Though the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has reported no case in which groundwater has been contaminated, the Klines — who “aren’t used to the limelight” and declined a reporter access to view their water — say they can light the liquid from their faucet on fire. Their dogs have diarrhea from drinking it.
“Just talking about it makes me cry. I’m putting these kids in the bathtub,” she says, pointing to her 2-year-old daughter and 3-year-old boy.
So, the couple took a sample of their water to the Sunday testing event, which isn’t certified by either the Ohio or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but it’s a start.
The Klines can’t afford hundreds of dollars in EPA tests. They are relying on volunteers like Sosebee and Craig Lanken, who test the water’s temperature, total dissolved solids, conductivity and salinity before passing the samples along for subsequent chloride tests.
Gathering baseline data
None of the volunteers can unequivocally link drilling activity with high levels of salt — a major component of brine — or chlorides, which Sosebee says indicate oil-field waste contamination. But that’s not the point of the tests.
“Our idea here is to gather baseline data over time,” Lanken said. He jots down some annotations on a printout that lists the EPA’s acceptable drinking levels. He’ll do the same next month for samples from the same water wells until pre- and post-drilling trends become clear.
“When we see a big change, that’s when we would probably advise them to have an EPA certified test” and to contact their local health department, he said.
Lanken hands the test results to Kathy Lanken, a fellow volunteer from Mantua who runs the results out to Domonkos in the makeshift waiting room.
“There’s my nice rusty water,” said Domonkos, who prefers his city water to the iron-laden well water. He takes the test results from Lanken and tucks the Mason jar under his left arm.
“A lot of people here,” he says, motioning to the crowd and cradling the jar, “This is all they got.”
Domonkos has city water for his home outside of Lake Milton but uses well water for the produce and livestock on his property along Mahoning Avenue just east of Portage County. He farms corn, wheat, soybeans and livestock. It’s his livelihood, which also runs on natural gas.
He knows the three wells on his property “could affect your health and it could affect your business.” One well was fracked in the ’70s. It’s the highest-producing well he has.
“It’s business. That’s it. The more they make, the more I make,” he said, pausing for a moment. “But there is ethics.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org.