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Sunday, July 1,2012

Fracking opponents claim they've got test results on contents of local injection well

By Jim Phillips
Photo Credits: Dustin Franz
Photo Caption: Madeline ffitch of Dover Twp. in Athens County is chained to two concrete-filled barrels at the entrance to an oil and gas waste-water injection well southwest of Athens. Law enforcement was in the process of trying to remove her as of mid-morning Tuesday. She had apparently been chained there since early Tuesday morning.

Less than a week after an Athens County woman was arrested for peaceably protesting at an injection well site in Alexander Township that accepts wastewater from oil-and-gas drilling, a news conference in Columbus will publicize what a state representative from Youngstown suggests are disturbing test results on the "brine" that's going into this and other wells.

Democratic state Rep. Bob Hagan will not appear at the conference, which apparently is being organized by Ohio Fracktion, an environmental group that has raised concerns about the impacts of horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas, including the disposal of wastewater from the process. Hagan stressed Sunday that while the news conference in Columbus Monday was not his idea and he's not involved in it, he does harbor strong concerns about how carefully the state is regulating the liquid that goes into its injection wells.

"If (the state) is not testing, (drilling companies) can throw anything into it," Hagan said.

In May, Hagan sent a letter to Gov. John Kasich and Jim Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. In the letter, the legislator expressed "serious concerns" about the fact that ODNR, despite having the legal authority to do so, apparently does not test the drilling wastewater that's put underground into Ohio injection wells, from sites both in Ohio and in nearby states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"When was the last time ODNR tested the makeup of brine and other fracking waste?" Hagan asked in his letter. "Why are the concerns of Ohioans being ignored by their own government?" He urged the administration to examine the test results he claims to have from a brine sample, and to "make public" ODNR's inspection process for the state's injection wells.

The news conference scheduled to take place on the Statehouse steps in Columbus at 10 a.m. today will publicize such concerns. The event will feature appearances by citizens from Athens and Morgan counties, including 31-year-old Madeline ffitch (correct lower-case "f"), who was arrested last week during an act of civil disobedience at an injection well on Ladd Ridge Road in Alexander Township.

Ffitch made statewide news after she secured herself to two concrete-filled barrels, to block truck access to the site. Police and firefighters responded in force to the scene, and after several hours of negotiation, ffitch agreed to release herself from the barrels. She was arrested and charged with inducing panic, a low-level felony; however, authorities have stated that they may try to force her to pay restitution for the cost of the large official response to her protest.

One of the issues raised by protesters like ffitch is their claim that state regulators in Ohio simply don't monitor the contents of the "brine" that's going into the injection wells to see how dangerous it is. Ohio Fracktion claims in a news release that somehow – the release doesn't specify how – a sample of brine was obtained from an "open pit" at the well site where ffitch staged her protest.

Analysis of the brine, the release alleges, showed it to contain "alpha particles," indicative of radioactivity, as well as arsenic, barium, toluene and other toxic chemicals. The news release does not indicate what concentrations these substances were allegedly found in, but does quote a biology professor from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, Ben Stout, who claims that the brine qualifies to be classified as hazardous waste.

Hagan said Sunday that he doesn't know, and doesn't want to know, how the sample was obtained, "because it was done surreptitiously."

On Friday, an employee of Carper Well Service, which owns the well site where ffitch had her protest, repeated his claims that the state adequately regulates such wells, and that the Alexander Township well on Ladd Ridge Road accepts only non-hazardous "brine" that flows back from drilling operations.

"Smitty" Vandall, of the Marietta-based Carper, said he believes protesters like ffitch are simply ignorant about what goes into such wells.

"They don't know what's going on," he said. "All they have to do is do the research."

In an interview on the day of ffitch's arrest, Heidi Hetzel-Evans, who works in the ODNR's communications department, insisted that Ohio's regulation of the oil and gas industry is tighter than most other states, and that recent legislation makes it even more strict.

She said this particular injection well, known as the Ginsburg well, has been in operation since 1984, and was inspected less than two weeks ago, on June 13. At that time, she said, the 3,161-foot-deep well was "fully in compliance."


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Regulations are just words on paper unless they are enforced.  The ODNR has neither the political will nor the manpower to regulate this industry. The new laws governing fracking were amended before passing by politicians whose pockets are bulging with money from the gas lobby.  The regulations are loaded with loopholes and weasel language.