Nobody's all the way righteous in local fracking debate

In this file photo from late June 2012, protester Madeline ffitch of Athens County talks to local sheriff’s deputies while chained to two concrete-filled barrels at a deep injection well site in Alexander Township.

Baseline water-quality testing conducted by Ohio University employees on behalf of Athens County near fracking waste injection wells showed some chemicals at several sites exceeding secondary maximum contamination levels, as well as Ohio Department of Health advisory levels.

The levels did not rise to the level of being actionable, however.

The Regional Groundwater Quality Report was funded by the Athens County Commissioners for $15,637 and was produced by the OU Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs by Senior Project Manager Jennifer Bowman, Environmental Studies associate professor Natalie Kruse and Geospatial Software Development Engineer Steve Porter.

Waste-injection wells have become extremely controversial in Athens County, with environmental activists claiming they threaten vital water resources, among other problems. The oil and gas industry insists they’re safe, and argue that waste injection is safer than other forms of disposal.

A copy of the study results, which were issued in April 2016, was obtained by The Athens NEWS during an event in Coolville last week. Bowman, the Athens County Fracking Action Network and Torch CAN-DO were meeting with local residents to obtain permission to conduct further monitoring of water wells throughout that area, which includes four fracking waste injection wells.

The study contracted by the county Commissioners involved conducting a baseline groundwater study of the regional shallow aquifers near Class II fracking waste disposal wells throughout the county. The study area included the eight active Class II injection wells in Athens County.

The researchers collected samples during two separate time periods, which were analyzed by the Summit Environmental Technologies, Inc. laboratory in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

The study’s conclusions reported that iron, manganese and total dissolved solids exceeded the secondary maximum contamination levels at various sites.

“The SMCLs are desirable contamination limits and are thus not federally enforceable,” the study reported. “In addition, one parameter that exceeded health advisories includes methane.”

Methane levels in the groundwater at one site located near Torch, southeast of the K&H Partners’ three Class II fracking waste disposal wells, showed methane exceeding the Ohio Department of Health advisory.

The study recommended that this site be monitored on a monthly basis. Volatile organic compounds including Benzene, Toluene, Ehtylbenzene, o-Xylene, and m,p-Xylene registered below the detectable reporting limits, the study said. 

The limited groundwater sampling conducted as part of this initial study established nine sampling locations near each of the eight active Class II disposal wells in Athens County at that time.

In order to detect groundwater pollution around the injection wells, a network of at least 5-10 sites around each injection well at various depths are needed, the study said.

“Long-term monitoring every two years over a duration of 10-20 years after injection of wastewater ceases (is needed),” the study said. “This study in Athens County helps to establish a groundwater quality baseline as pollution migration pathways haven’t been identified.”

The samples taken during this study will serve as that baseline, the study said, recommending sampling of these sites every two years, as well as an increase in sampling and testing around each injection well.

“This is needed as more Class II disposal wells are installed and existing Class II injection wells are pushed to their maximum capacity,” the study said. “Long-term studies also will be important as drilling infrastructure such as well casings and surrounding concrete begin to age.”

The results were shared with landowners who participated in the study.

Meanwhile, Bowman and other OU researchers are continuing to recruit residents with property near or adjacent to fracking waste injection wells in the Torch and Coolville areas to participate in another water-quality study.

That study is being funded by the Sugar Bush Foundation, a supporting organization of the OU Foundation, and is being conducted by the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, Torch CAN DO, the Buckeye Forest Council and the Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN).

The study will document groundwater-quality conditions in the groundwater flow path around the wells in the targeted area in eastern Athens County near Torch and Coolville.

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