(Posted by Trent Dougherty, OEC Director of Legal Affairs)
Earlier this month, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”) and its Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management (“DOGRM”) released draft rules to strengthen its regulation of fracking waste injection wells. These rules were proposed to establish more stringent regulations to protect public health and safety due to recent seismic events in the Youngstown area potentially caused by Class II brine injection. (Read ODNR’s Report on the earthquakes).
It is important to note that the Youngstown-area injection well is NOT the only deep injection well in Ohio that has triggered associated earthquakes. The Class I Hazardous Waste injection well (not a fracking waste well) in Ashtabula County is thought by researchers to have induced a series of earthquakes in 1987 (Seeber and Armbruster, 1993). There also appears to be a relationship between a series of earthquakes near Marietta at the Burning Springs Anticline and a set of active deep Class II injection wells in the area.
While the impetus may be the earthquakes, the true need for full overview of the Class II brine injection well regulations is due to the great influx of waste from Pennsylvania and the predicted boom of domestic shale production in Ohio.
According to ODNR’s Business Impact Analysis on the rule package: Ohio currently has 196 Class II brine injection wells permitted to operate and nationally, there are 144,000 Class II brine injection wells disposing of in excess of two billion gallons of oilfield fluid wastes each day.
The industrial-scale deep shale oil and gas wells, projected to total in the thousands, will need a great amount of new injection well capacity for disposing of the millions of gallons of brine and wastewater.
WHAT’S IN THE PROPOSED RULE
- Allows DOGRM to require specific tests or evaluations for new wells;
- Prohibits an applicant from injecting fluid into an injection well until DOGRM has evaluated the results of any test performed;
- Gives DOGRM the right to withhold the authority to inject fluids based upon the results of the tests performed;
- Gives the DOGRM more time (fifteen days instead of the current five days) to review an application;
- Increase the public notice requirements for brine injection well permit applications from one notice in a local newspaper to at least 5 consecutive days in one week;
- Requires future injection wells to continuously monitor; and
- Requires the injection well owner to install an automatic shut-off device set to terminate injection if injection pressure is exceeded.
OEC, on Monday, submitted its comments on the rules to ODNR, including a technical review undertaken by members of the Ohio Fracture Flow Working Group , an organization of highly qualified scientists and engineers, on behalf of the Ohio Environmental Council.
We stressed that these new rule changes are important, and ODNR should be commended for moving forward with them. However, the proposed rules have FOUR overarching flaws:
- Too much discretion is given to the well operator to perform, or not perform, a test;
- Only new wells – not the nearly 200 current wells – are subject to continuous monitoring and other requirements;
- Far too little local community and local government notice and comment opportunity is afforded; and
- The rules focus only on mitigation of more earthquakes, and not the breadth of other issues concerning risks to human safety and water resources.
ISSUES NOT ADDRESSED IN THE PROPOSED DRAFT
Because state law gives ODNR broad authority to issue rules regulating brine injection, OEC urged the state to take the opportunity and look beyond earthquake prevention and immediately begin drafting – regulations to:
- Provide for groundwater quality monitoring and testing;
- Require or otherwise incent recycling of wastewater;
- Establish protective siting criteria for constructing wells on/near ecologically sensitive areas;
- Require, where appropriate, chemical tracers to monitor migration of substances;
- Increase notice, comment, and similar permit participation rights for local community members and local governments.
While it is easy to understand and appreciate the need and desire to finalize these proposed rules quickly in response to the 2011 earthquakes, the need for speed should not influence whether further protections are adopted.
RECENT FEDERAL REPORT SHOWS LINK
OEC also brought to ODNR’s attention a recent National Research Council report on induced seismicity from energy production and related operations.
The report examines the potential for energy technologies — including shale gas recovery, carbon capture and storage, geothermal energy production, and conventional oil and gas development — to cause earthquakes.
A conclusion of the 223-page report isthat although fracking has a low risk for causing earthquakes, underground injection wells – used to dispose of fracking wastes – present greater seismic risks. This report supports many of the technical concerns expressed over the past few months, and displaces the rhetoric that the Youngstown incidents were a mere “anomaly.” Hopefully ODNR reviews the report, and that the report’s recommendations are incorporated into Ohio’s regulations.
The rules will most likely be finalized this Summer.
 The Ohio Fracture Flow Working Group members contributing to the technical comments include:
Julie Weatherington-Rice, PhD, CPG, CPSS – Bennett & Williams
Linda Aller, RS, CPH, CGWP, CPGS – Bennett & Williams
Kerry Hughes Zwierschke, PhD, PE – Bennett & Williams
Stuart Smith – Ground Water Science
Al Kemerer – mechanical engineer/businessman Carrollton, Ohio