Jan 31, 2022

Vic Elam

Letter to the Editor Marietta Times

Often referred to in terms of the wildlife needs of shelter, water, food, and space, habitat also applies to humans.  In ecological terms habitat is often defined as an assemblage of animals and plants that live in a particular environment.

Without proper habitat we will cease to exist, and one irreplaceable component of our habitat is water.  Humans have an advantage over the assemblage of animals and plants that coexist and make it possible for us to live.  We can normally take contaminated water that would make us extremely ill and filter it and treat it and render it harmless and even make it life sustaining.

I say normally because we usually start out with water that is relatively clean.  But the fate of our water supply is constantly under attack from threats from contamination and usually those threats are unforeseen and accidental.  We take clean drinking water for granted whereas many parts of the world would be thankful to have our water supply.

To paraphrase a great adage, “With great gifts comes great responsibility” and we are not taking the precautions needed to protect our water.  Of the many threats out there, we as humans allow ourselves to remove millions of gallons of perfectly good water from the environment and contaminate it by pumping it under ground through rock fissures (fracking) where it picks up radiation and multitudes of harmful compounds.  When this water comes back to the surface it is a biohazard, although the petroleum industry has used its power to avoid that label and instead refers to it as “brine”.

Humans are great at problem solving, but when there is financial incentive, it seems that solutions often impact those that are unaware or without the wherewithal to protect themselves. Certainly, the other part of our habitat, the assemblage of animals and plants are powerless to defend themselves.  

Apparently the cheapest and easiest disposal method is to inject the “brine” down wells.  This disposal method is fraught with potential for environmental harm, most troubling is the threat of water contamination.  These injection wells are drilled to depths well below our drinking water sources, but there are many pathways where the brine can find its way into the water supply.  Trucks carrying the “brine” can wreck and spill, pipelines that carry “brine” to the well site can rupture and spill as happened near Marietta last year, injection wells can leak, injection wells under pressure can force “brine” through fissures to unplanned places, etc.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is authorized to provide oversight on these injection wells and delegates that role to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management (ODNR).  ODNR has regularly failed to complete inspections as required by USEPA and penalties for violations are rare or absent.  Inspection authority should be taken away from ODNR, who receives payment for each barrel of injected “brine”.  Secondly, if we have not learned anything from the mining industry it’s that we should have plenty of revenue set aside for reclamation.  Currently, there is no surcharge or tax per barrel of “brine” disposed to go into a fund set aside for when something goes wrong.  Perhaps the counties should impose a fee or tax to collect funds for reclamation, although this is a Genie that will be very hard to put back in the bottle.

I hope that we all can continue to take for granted the abundant clean water that we enjoy and the full compliment of animals and plants that come with it.  Vigilance will be required to ensure that these benefits are protected.