Too Much Fracking Waste & Too Many Unanswered Questions
Christopher Schmitt, Patch Staff
Posted Mon, Aug 23, 2021 at 12:24 pm ET
Marietta native George Banziger expresses grave concerns about how fracking and injection wells are affecting Washington County.
MARIETTA, OH — This is a news release written by George Banziger, Ph.D. He was a faculty member at Marietta College and an academic dean at three other colleges. Now retired, he volunteers for the Mid-Ohio Valley Interfaith, and Harvest of Hope. He is a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, Citizens Climate Lobby, and of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action Leadership Team. His comments do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of this writer, or this company.
In 2019 Washington County had the second-highest level of injection well activity in the state at 8.1 million barrels of brine waste, 68% of which was from out-of-state (PA & WV) sources. Our county has the highest number of wells in the state. In 2011 there were 1.9 million barrels of brine waste injected in our county. Washington County is one of 22 counties in the officially designated Appalachian region, where the vast majority of injection wells are located. This leads to my first question: If there are deleterious effects of injection wells in this region, wouldn’t this constitute a disproportionate impact and involve an issue of environmental justice?
Class II injection wells, as they are categorized by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management, are deep ground penetrations that push waste from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) into the ground. This division of ODNR is tasked with reviewing requests for permits and for conducting regular inspections of these wells.
This fracking waste is referred to as “brine,” but much of it is radioactive and is composed of water and additional chemicals, such as lead, arsenic, formaldehyde, mercury. Although only one percent of brine contains these chemicals, when we are dealing with a million gallons of water per well, this is not about teaspoons full. The shocking fact about this fracking waste is that, due to congressional action, referred to as the Halliburton rule, oil and gas companies are not required to reveal the contents of fracking waste. A recent article in the New York Times (July 13, 2021) has pointed out that toxic chemicals from hydraulic fracturing can transform into PFAS, a substance that has been linked to cancer and birth defects in people. PFAS is long-lasting and harmful to humans, wild mammals, and birds.
I am aware that injection wells have cement casings and annulus controls and that they are customarily drilled to a depth of approximately 3,000 feet while aquifers, from which drinking water is obtained normally are drilled at 200-300 feet. This means that, if properly done, injection wells should not pose any risk to aquifers or surface water. The keyword in this conclusion is “properly.” Spills. leaks, discharges, excessive amounts of brine, and other potentially harmful events are not uncommon at injection well sites, especially given the vast proliferation of injection wells in Washington County and throughout eastern Ohio.
In November/December 2020 I reviewed 23 violation reports, 26 compliance reports, and 1,155 inspection reports provided by the ODNR. After my review, I posed several questions to the public representative of ODNR on injection wells. These questions had to do with specific reports on injection wells in the county, where spills or related violations were reported, what action was taken, and whether follow-up was made. On December 9 I sent a list of over 25 questions from inspection reports, which I grouped into the following categories: Redbird #4 injection well (aka #24), where numerous problems were cited, spills & leaks, conditions of wells at inspection, issues related to the recently approved barge offload facility in Marietta (owner Deep Rock), ownership of wells, and roads and transport to wells. I have not yet received responses to any of these questions, several of which relate to spills and leaks (at dykes and other places), which may have flowed into aquifers, streams, and rivers.
On February 5, 2021, I sent another message to ODNR, asking the representative to please respond to the questions I posed on December 9 regarding inspection reports and to respond to some immediate questions I had about a reported spill on January 20, 2021, at a Deep Rock injection well facility near Marietta. One of my questions about this spill was whether there is any evidence that brine waste from this spill entered streams and the Ohio River. At this date, I have not yet received any response to these questions. Neither has there been any public hearings on injection wells in this county regarding spills at these wells, what follow-up and enforcement actions ODNR has taken, and how such spills can be reduced or eliminated in the future.
In a September 5, 2020 article in the Columbus Dispatch, there was a report on the Redbird #4 spill indicating that fracking waste had seeped into natural gas production wells but not into drinking water. But an article in Consumer Reports (December 3, 2020) stated: “The risk to drinking water comes in two major ways. First, water used in the hydraulic drilling process can leak into aquifers and other groundwater supplies. Second, the wastewater that fracking produces can contaminate supplies when waste leaks from landfills that accept oil remain when waste spills from trucks or pipelines moving it, when equipment fails, or when waste leaks from unlined disposal pits.”
I have written to State Senator Frank Hoagland Washington County) about my questions. His office contacted ODNR, which responded in a message merely identifying their standard procedures. I also contacted State Representative Don Jones (who represents the part of Washington County where I reside), and have received no response.
This year the Ohio legislature passed two bills (House Bill 282 and Senate Bill 171) which amounted to a giveaway to the oil and gas business and a sell-out to the health of Ohioans. These bills allow for 333 times the radioactive level recommended by health experts. Even the ODNR has stated that this does not ensure the protection of public health.
On September 14 (6 p.m.) there will be a meeting at 600 Goose Run Road (off Ohio 26) in Marietta on the impact of injection wells. Ohio Representative Jay Edwards will be there. This will be an opportunity to get some of the numerous questions about injection wells answered.
As a concerned resident of Washington County and one who has reviewed the numerous reports of Class II injection wells in the county, it is my observation that ODNR does not have the human or physical resources to conduct a complete regimen of inspection (which they are supposed to do every 11-13 weeks), follow-up and enforcement required of these facilities which pose environmental and health risks to the county and indeed to the entire state. Until ODNR answers these numerous questions, it is my recommendation that all activity at injection wells be halted—or at the very least no additional permits for Class II injection wells be approved.
For further information about the health and environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing and the significant amount of brine waste that results from this process, I refer you to a significant national (and indeed international) review study of all health and environmental aspects of hydraulic fracturing by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York: Concerned Health Professionals of New York, & Physicians for Social Responsibility. (2020, December). Compendium of scientific, medical, and media findings demonstrating risks and harms of fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction) (7th ed.). https://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/. One of the “emerging trends” noted in this report is that fracking waste threatens drinking water in the form of spills, discharges into rivers, underground migration of chemicals, and water depletion.
This is a news release written by George Banziger of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action Leadership Team.