ODNR Under Scrutiny for Well Fire Handling

About 9,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 250 gallons of hydrochloric acid burned during the June 28 Monroe County natural gas drilling pad fire, which left roughly 70,000 aquatic organisms dead in Opossum Creek, according to federal regulators.

Now, the Ohio Environmental Council action group is questioning how officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources – which regulates oil and natural gas drilling in the Buckeye State – performed in responding to the blaze at the Statoil Eisenbarth drilling pad.

“It is inexcusable that ODNR waited two days to request the identity of the proprietary chemicals kept on site,” said Melanie Houston, council director of Environmental Health. “ODNR often assures the public that they always have an inspector present when a well is constructed. Is it too much to ask that they be present at ‘unified command’ when there is a spill or fire at the well pad?”

The unified command consisted of officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, ODNR, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Norway-based Statoil. According to the EPA, water samples of runoff taken shortly after the accident at the well pad showed the presence of benzene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, toluene and pyrene – all chemicals commonly used during well fracking.

“Opossum Creek empties into the Ohio River a mere 1.7 miles upstream from a public drinking water intake and Ohio law prevented public water supply authorities from identifying the ‘trade secret’ chemicals that polluted it,” said Nathan Johnson, attorney for the council.

“The well pad in this case was far too close to both homes – two residents were within 200 yards,” Johnson continued.

However, ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said inspectors from her agency responded to the scene within hours of receiving notification, while performing safety measures to ensure public safety and mitigate environmental damage.

“After any incident, especially one of this magnitude with so many partners involved, we self-evaluate to see where best management practices could occur and how we can improve. We’ll continue to critique our rules, actions and legislation to ensure the citizens of Ohio are properly protected,” she said.

The EPA shows that Statoil hired international oilfield services giant Halliburton to drill and frack at the Eisenbarth pad. McCorkle said the fire appeared to begin when a hose malfunctioned in the middle of the Halliburton fracking job before ultimately spreading to a total of 20 trucks.

Statoil spokeswoman Kirsten Henricksen said the company employs Halliburton to drill and frack in the U.S. She said Statoil is still evaluating the precise cause of the fire.