Ohio Takes Quake Action

BRIDGEPORT – Briny wastewater from natural gas drilling operations is being pumped into a 2.6-mile deep injection well at the top of Kirkwood Heights – and Ohio regulators hope a new set of regulations will prevent earthquakes at sites like this.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials said Friday that the injection of gas-drilling wastewater into a similar well near Youngstown almost certainly induced a dozen small earthquakes. To help prevent future problems at other injection wells, state regulators will now require well operators to submit more comprehensive geological data when requesting a drill site and will compel those operators to electronically track the chemical makeup of all drilling wastewater.

“Ohio has developed a new set of regulatory standards that positions the state as a national leader in safe and environmentally responsible brine disposal,” said Natural Resources Director James Zehringer. “Ohioans demand smart environmental safeguards that protect our environment and promote public health. These new standards accomplish that goal.”

Among other changes:

  • Future injection into Precambrian rock will be banned, while existing wells penetrating the formation will be plugged.
  • State-of-the-art pressure and volume monitoring will be required, including automatic shut-off systems.
  • Electronic tracking systems will be required that identify the makeup of all drilling wastewater fluids entering the state.

Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for the natural resources department, said ramping up the electronic monitoring of incoming wastewater could take some time. The technology, similar to an electronic pass used on a toll road, is not yet widely available, he said.

As the technology is developed and installed, the new regulations could have an immediate impact on neighboring Pennsylvania, which has been shipping wastewater to the Buckeye State for disposal for a few years now. This is because the geology in Pennsylvania makes such injection wells there impractical.

The Kirkwood Heights well, which is the deepest ever drilled in Ohio, is accepting wastewater from fracking operations on a regular basis, according to ODNR. Ohio Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, which operates under the ODNR, confirmed the Kirkwood Heights well – owned and operated by David Hill Inc. – has been accepting brine since fall.

Other Ohio injection wells throughout the local area include one owned by Consol Energy Inc. near Barnesville another in northwestern Jefferson County owned by Samurai Operating Co.

Hill originally said he dug the well with the intention of having it produce oil and natural gas. In fall 2010, drivers traveling west on Interstate 70 near Bridgeport could see the drilling rig prominently positioned on the hill above them. However, ODNR officials said the well’s permit changed last year to indicate it would serve as an injection well.

A briny wastewater injection well should not be confused with a Marcellus or Utica shale production well. After gas drillers pump millions of gallons of fracking fluid – consisting mostly of water and sand, but also including different chemical combinations that vary per the choice of the driller – into a production well, much of this substance flushes back up through the shaft. The fracking fluid combines with minerals and mud from the earth to create the briny wastewater.

Though some drillers are able to recycle or reuse much of the wastewater, the remainder of the substance must be discarded. Because governments have cracked down on allowing the water to be pumped into public water treatment systems, the underground injection wells are the preferred disposal method for many drillers.

D&L Energy, the operator of the well connected to the earthquakes, believes the ODNR report is based on “bad or incomplete science.” Company officials said the well complied with all state regulations at the time it was idled by the company in January.