Ohio to Get $1M for Taking Frack Water

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Greg Bizzarri does not oppose the natural gas drilling industry, but he wants to make sure eastern Ohio does not become overwhelmed with wastewater from Pennsylvania.

“I don’t want us to just be the dumping ground for Pennsylvania,” said Bizzarri, president of the Belmont County Township Association. “People need to think about what this is going to do to us 10 or 20 years down the road.”

For months, Pennsylvania gas drillers tapping into the Marcellus Shale have been shipping the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, waste to eastern Ohio. The Buckeye State is on pace to gain nearly $1 million in fees from out-of-state drillers for accepting the brine.

The amount of wastewater Ohio accepted from out-of-state drillers jumped 25 percent in the first quarter of 2011, compared with the last quarter of 2010, likely in part because Pennsylvania officials this year increased pressure on drillers to keep fracking waste out of surface water, said Tom Tomastik of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Drillers “have to do something with this waste,” said Pam Melott, manager at WTC Gas Field Services, one of several haulers newly registered to ship to Ohio. “There’s a lot of prospective customers. Our customers have called me and they want to know, ‘What are we going to do?’ … So, yes, they’re very interested in this.”

Pennsylvania has six active deep-injection disposal wells, all in the western half of the state, but state Department of Environmental Protection records show drillers rely heavily on Ohio to take their waste. Companies sent nearly 14.8 million gallons for underground disposal in the last six months of 2010, the most recent statistics available.

With the Marcellus and Utica Shale drilling rushes now firmly in place in East Ohio – highlighted by David Hill Inc.’s state record 13,727-foot deep vertical well at the top of Kirkwood Heights that could become an injection well for brine water used at other drilling sites – Belmont County is rapidly becoming the site of more activity.

A clause in the contract for the Kirkwood Heights well states that if it ultimately does not produce gas, it may be used for an injection well to dispose of the brine water used at other sites, such as those in Pennsylvania. Hill previously said he will try to get gas out of the well, but he reserved the injection well option.

Hill could not be reached for comment for this report regarding the future of his possible injection well.

Drillers are contemplating developing disposal wells in both Ohio and West Virginia, government regulators and industry officials said. More haulers are registering to carry shipments to Ohio, and one developer is considering a rail line covering several hundred miles, Tomastik said.

To free gas from the rock formation more than a mile underground, drillers use more than 4 million gallons of water per well. Laced with chemicals and forced beneath the ground at high pressure, the fluid breaks through the earth, but more than a fifth of it returns to the surface with chemicals, solids and metals freed from underground. That water must be treated either for reuse or disposal.

The Pennsylvania DEP in August set stricter standards for the amount of solids wastewater plants can take in. This spring, the agency asked drillers to stop taking Marcellus water, sparking the search for options.

As regulations tightened and pressure mounted, more Marcellus Shale drillers moved toward recycling. Several of the region’s most active drillers said they recycle 90 percent to 100 percent of the water they use, sending what can’t be recycled to Ohio.

Some of the wastewater may take years to return to the surface. It contains such high concentrations of salt that often it can’t be recycled, said Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for Texas-based Range Resources.

“I just want to make sure that whatever they are bringing here is safe,” said Bizzarri. “Just because it is injected into the ground doesn’t mean that it won’t be able to seep out someday.”

“The Ohio (Environmental Protection Association) just ruled against allowing this stuff to be treated in Steubenville, so there must be something wrong with it,” he added in referencing the recent OEPA ruling to prevent Steubenville and other Ohio cities from accepting briny wastewater into their public water systems.