Bob Downing

SUFFIELD TWP.: The 55 activists and citizens worried about injection wells were safe, very safe.

They were joined in and around the Pine Tree Lodge at Wingfoot Lake State Park by 30 state staffers, including at least 14 armed staffers and one canine unit.

A State Highway Patrol cruiser even passed by.

The heavy police presence annoyed some of those in attendance. Scott Fischer, 82, of Hiram said he was angered.

“Why are there 14 armed brown shirts?” he asked. “Why do you need armed force?”

His comments at the meeting drew strong applause.

Gail Cole of Suffield Township said the armed officers in attendance “riled me up.” She added, “It makes me very nervous.”

Several in the crowd urged those in charge to send the staffers home, a move that would likely save money on reduced overtime.

Pat Brown, a law-enforcement officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the state was uncertain how many people might attend the meeting.

There have been disturbances with arrests in Washington and Athens counties, and the state wanted to be in a position to handle any problems that might arise, especially at the state park, he said. The heavy police presence had nothing to do with any individuals attending the meeting, but was just a precaution, he said.

The number of armed staffers would not have looked so dominant if there had been hundreds of people at the meeting, he said.

The meeting itself centered around a multi-media presentation on injection wells by Tom Tomastik, a geologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.

Tomastik said Ohio has the toughest injection rules in the United States.

The state has 181 operating injection wells with Portage, Stark and Washington counties having some of the biggest numbers.

The wells, with three layers of steel casing, are the safest way to dispose of liquid wastes from drilling, he said.

In 2012, Ohio handled nearly 14 million 42-gallon barrels of brine and drilling liquids through injection wells.

More than half of what Ohio injects below the ground for disposal comes from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

But Ohio can do nothing to block such shipments because they are interstate commerce.

The residents posed numerous questions, both after Tomastik’s talk and earlier during an open house with 10 stations inside the lodge.

Several said they were puzzled because the meeting was a general program touting injection wells and had little to do with concerns raised in northeast Portage County.

A cluster of seven injection wells has been proposed in Nelson and Windham townships, along with horizontal production wells for natural gas. This has triggered concerns from neighbors. But state officials did not deal with what’s happening in Portage County during its presentation.

Newt Engle of Rootstown Township said he was disappointed that the state offered virtually no information on injection wells in that corner of Portage County. Mary Greer of Shalersville Township said her research had led to her to conclusions that are totally opposite of what Tomastik says.

State spokesman Matt Eiselstein said the state would draft answers to all the questions posed by the public. They will be posted on the state website in a timely fashion, he said.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.