Athens City Council unanimously voted Monday night to lend its support to proposed statewide legislation that would ban the use of fracking injection wells in Ohio.
Ohio Reps. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, and Denise Driehouse, D-Cincinnati, have proposed the injection well ban. A similar bill has been introduced in the Ohio Senate by state Sen. Mike Skindell, D-Cleveland.
The Center for Health, Environment & Justice has said that in 2012, Ohio accepted nearly 14 million barrels of drilling wastes from oil and natural gas operations.
So far, nearly 40 local community and environmental groups have officially backed the proposed ban.
The city of Athens has joined that list. Last May the city passed a resolution making certain amendments to the city's wellhead protection plan, including provisions banning the controversial horizontal hydraulic fracturing drilling technique in that area.
In council's revisions, the first provision bans "drilling, mining, exploration and extraction operations, including but not limited to, petroleum gas and minerals," while the second bans "the storage and/or disposal of wastewater and other byproducts associated with drilling, mining, exploration and extraction operations."
On Monday, Third Ward council member Michele Papai noted the city has already sent several resolutions to the state regarding concerns about industrial waste.
"I wanted to propose tonight that we send a resolution back up to Columbus stating our support for the legislators who have proposed this type of ban," she said.
For the sake of the public's awareness, Papai said she was providing further information.
She said that during the winter meeting of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, attendees were told that in 2012 Ohio had 178 active injection wells.
In Athens County, an ad hoc county committee, formed to study the issue and report on it to the county commissioners, told the commission last November that injection wells for wastewater storage are probably a much bigger risk to the county than oil-and-gas production wells, as it's still unclear whether the drilling boom will come this far south and west. (Unconfirmed reports suggest that the big players in the deep-shale boom have cooled on Athens County's potential for development, until they see solid results in neighboring Washington County.)
Shortly after the ad hoc committee report, the ODNR approved an injection well in the Coolville area in Troy Township. This was the fifth such well operating in the county; a recently approved well for D.T. Atha, Inc., in Rome Township makes the sixth.
Papai also cited the nearly 14 million barrels of fracking waste being dumped in Ohio's injection wells last year.
"What do we know about that waste? Well, we know that there are undisclosed, highly toxic chemicals: Benzine, mercury, arsenic and radioactive radium," she said. "So in support of that legislation that was introduced last Wednesday, I suggest we as a council put forward a resolution… that we continue to suggest to our legislators in Columbus that we are very concerned about our safe drinking water."
She also noted that the city is aware that the drilling industry is exempt from federal hazardous waste standards.
"Many of the class two wells, as well, are old wells that are not up to current standards," she said further.
Reading from the resolution, Papai said, "Allowing Ohio to become a dumping ground for the waste from hydraulic fracturing will leave a toxic legacy for generations of Ohioans."
At-large council member Steve Patterson said he's in full support of the resolution for a number of reasons.
"The regulation of these injection wells is fairly lax," he said. "Inspections are every five years and a 30-minute pressure hold to satisfy the safety of these wells. So I think this is a huge concern."
He said he doesn't want to see old wells in Athens County converted into injection wells, and thereby see the area converted into a dumping ground.
Fourth Ward council member Christine Fahl noted several neighboring states already have injection well bans.
"If other states are not taking care of their own waste, then we are becoming a dumping ground," she said. "We see this type of thing in third world countries… where others are getting the monetary gain, and we are paying the long-term price."
The resolution passed with full support from council.