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Monday, September 3,2012

Injection well raises concerns

By Jim Phillips

A local anti-fracking group has called a public meeting for this Wednesday to discuss the pending state permit application for an injection well in Rome Township that would accept waste brine from oil-and-gas drilling operations.

In a news release, the Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) noted that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is currently accepting public comment on the well proposed by the company D.T. Atha, Inc., based in Sugar Grove, Ohio. The comment period will close Sept. 17, the release said.

According to Heidi Hetzel-Evans, a spokeswoman for ODNR, the application is to convert an existing shallow vertical oil-and-gas well near Ohio Rt. 144 into an injection well. She said the well is planned to accept brine from local production wells, not large-scale shipments of out-of-state waste-water.

"It's only going to be used for local disposal," Hetzel-Evans said. "It's not what we would call a large commercial well."

She further explained that Atha had filed a permit application earlier, but that this was put on hold after a series of earthquakes in the Youngstown area last year that were linked to the presence of injection wells there. The state responded with new legislation and emergency rules governing injection wells, but in the meantime pending permit applications were temporarily suspended.

After the legal changes were put in place, according to Hetzel-Evans, applicants already in the system, like Atha, were asked to re-submit their applications under the new standards.

Atha submitted its latest application in January; company official David T. Atha wrote to Tom Tomastik, a geologist with ODNR's Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, that "It is my understanding that there is a moratorium on all new disposal wells. Nonetheless I want to be 'on the list' for processing this application."

After the application was sent back for some needed revisions, the company submitted it again in March. On Aug. 1, Tomastik wrote to Atha, telling him to proceed with posting a public notice. Roxanne Groff, a member of ACFAN, said that members of that group have been watching for its publication in a local newspaper, but so far haven't seen it. "As far as we know, it hasn't shown up in any paper," she said.

The well goes down into the Onandaga Limestone and Huron Shale formations, and has a maximum depth of a little over 3,800 feet, ODNR records indicate.

The Atha application is one of two pending permit applications on file with the state for injection wells in Athens County. The other was filed last November by K&H Partners, LLC, a West Virginia company, for a site in Troy Township. That application appears to have already gone through its public comment period, but no permit has been issued.

According to the release from ACFAN, Wednesday's meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. at the Athens Community Center, "will allow community members to discuss the problem and how to comment (on the permit application). A primary goal of the meeting is to help people request that a public information session and public hearing be held on the permit."

Groff said members of ACFAN missed the opportunity to organize against the earlier injection-well application in Troy Township, and want to make sure they're ready to fight the Atha well. She said they're concerned that the two pending applications may be only the first of many.

"I think with two pending, it's just a matter of time before there are more," she predicted, noting that Athens County has many old production wells that could be converted to injection wells. "That's the biggest issue with the Atha well; it's an old well that's going to be converted," she said.

Hetzel-Evans of ODNR said a public hearing will not be scheduled unless someone asks for one, and granting of a hearing is not automatic. Someone requesting a hearing, she said, is required to cite relevant concerns relating to public health and safety and/or conservation practices, she explained.

"'Not in my back yard' is not considered relevant,'" she noted.

According to the permit application paperwork, the Atha well is expected to take an average of 1,200 barrels per day of brine, and a maximum of 1,500.

Hetzel-Evans, asked which local oil and gas operations will be producing the brine, said she didn't have specific information on the source. An ongoing drilling operation, the Hayes-Wolfe well, is currently being developed in Rome Township not far from the proposed deep injection disposal well site.


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