The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has ordered operators of temporary injection-well storage pits to take steps toward draining them of residual oilfield and fracking wastes, properly disposing of the “technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material” in the pits, and ensuring the pits’ physical integrity going forward.
One of these “concrete pits constructed below-ground surface for temporary storage of saltwater and oilfield wastes” is the Ginsberg Well, an open-air cement storage pit located on Ladd Ridge Road in Athens County’s Alexander Township (see accompanying photo).
A news release from the Athens County Future Action Network (ACFAN, sometimes using the term “Fracking Action Network) appeared to applaud the move toward stronger regulation of the temporary storage pits such as the Ginsberg Well, with the release’s headline declaring “Constant Pressure Constantly Applied Finally Made a Difference.”
However, in the same release, Roxanne Groff, a member of ACFAN, cautioned that “final victory” won’t happen “until these pits and wells are closed.”
She added,“Drilling holes and injecting toxic radioactive waste in our ground must stop. We hope that this long overdue ODNR mandate will result in operators shutting down their dangerous waste dumps.”
The news release recounted a recent meeting that Groff and Teresa Mills, director of the Buckeye Environmental Network, attended with ODNR Deputy Director Brittney Colvin and four representatives of the agency’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management (DOGRM).
At that meeting, the release said, Groff and Mills “learned that ODNR has issued a mandate to operators of Ohio injection-well open cement pit ‘temporary storage’ facilities to clean up their pits for inspection by ODNR.”
A May 16 version of the letter, sent specifically to Ginsberg Well owner Carper Well Services in Reno, Ohio, states that all fracking-waste injection-well operators comply with Ohio Administrative Code 1501:9-3-8(a) to “submit a plan regarding the drainage and proper disposal of all saltwater and oil field wastes.” All sludge found in the pits (all considered to be “technically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material”) must be tested for radioactive radium 226 and 228 and comply with state laws setting forth how and where the oilfield solid wastes and sludges in the pit shall be disposed of, according to the letter.
The letter includes the preceding requirements and nine other bullet points detailing the minimum requirements that Carper and other operators must fulfill in their mandated plans to ensure that their storage pits are “effectively preventing” the escape of saltwater and oilfield wastes.”
The letter said that if the DOGRM inspection after Carper’s cleanup plan is put into effect “determines that the (drained temporary drainage pit) lacks integrity, Carper Well Services Inc. shall submit a plan for repair of the pit, or a plan to decommission and remove the pit.”
The ACFAM release noted that they and other environmental activists have been exerting pressure on the ODNR for seven years to shut down and plug the no-longer-in-use Ginsberg injection well. The open cement storage pit is within 50 feet of Ladd Ridge Road, and has no fenced barrier other than a chain to keep vehicles out.
The recent meeting, according to the news release, was the second with officials of ODNR since Gov. Mike DeWine entered office in January; the first one this spring included new ODNR Director Mary Mertz.
After that meeting, the release said Groff related that “Director Mertz looked shocked at my photo of the open pit, acknowledged to be full of enhanced radioactive waste, for years unfenced, adjacent to a public county road.”
The letter to injection well operators is unprecedented, the release said, despite several years of agitation by environmental activists and public officials in Athens County. In the latter instance, the county Commissioners have adopted resolutions calling on the state to shut down and drain non-operating injection well storage pits. Those calls, as well as requests for the ODNR to hold public hearings on the issue, have gone unheeded.
ACFAN is inviting the public to attend the Athens County Commissioners’ meeting next Wednesday, Aug. 7 (at 1:30 p.m.), “to recognize this progress and discuss next steps to get these dangerous pits and injection holes closed and plugged permanently.”
Supporters unable to attend the Commissioners meeting are invited to Little Fish Brewery on Armitage Road in Athens the same day at 5 p.m. “to celebrate step one and discuss step two.”
IN A MEETING OF THECommissioners a year ago, several local environmental activists called on them to raise concerns about the non-operational Ginsberg Well.
At that time, Groff charged that the well was “not being taken care of,” and urged the commissioners to take action to encourage the well owner to properly maintain and close the site.
Holding up a stack of papers, Groff, herself a former Athens County commissioner, declared, “These are all… the violations that have been on this well since 1986. This well has been out of compliance more than it’s been in compliance in the last 32 years, and the situation out there continues to get worse.”
At that time, Groff recounted various instances in the last decade when the pump meant to keep the well from overflowing had stopped working and, consequently, the well had gone offline.
The well is a deep cement pit containing sludge and other fracking wastes that have been dumped there over the years, she said. The well hasn’t taken any waste since 2015, Groff said, and the pump meant to keep it from overflowing is unreliable.
“Those pumps are supposed to operate all the time so that the pit can be emptied constantly,” Groff said, explaining that each time it rains, the well fills with rainwater that mixes with the toxic waste, threatening to spill over. “…Because this pump never works and apparently hasn’t worked for a very, very long time, that toxic pit just sits out there,” she said.
Since the 1980s, the injection well “has been ordered by the (ODNR) chief two or three times to be shut down and plugged by the well owner,” Groff said at the July 2018 meeting. “Citizens continue to go out to see the condition of the well and it’s… full to the top; who knows if it’s overflowed? The well owner has to be contacted to come out and deal with an almost-overflowing pit.”