The Tuppers Plains-Chester Water District sent a letter to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources this summer expressing concerns about fracking injection wells, asking that public hearings be made mandatory for approval of such wells, and restrictions enacted on the amount of waste received.
The Tuppers Plains-Chester Water District is based out of Reedsville in neighboring Meigs County, and the letter cited the DuPont C-8 contamination of water that led to 15 years of litigation against the company and around 3,500 personal injury lawsuits, the first of which comes to trial this month.
“Our 13,000 customers and neighboring water systems that were contaminated by the chemical C-8 have learned the political process of large government entities and huge private corporations do not always operate in our best interest,” District Manager Donald C. Poole wrote the ODNR on June 25.
After sending that letter in June, the district sent a letter to customers in Meigs and eastern Athens County with their July bills, containing a copy of the June letter and informing customers about the board’s talks with citizens alarmed at the possibility of contamination due to injection wells.
“Many believe that brine disposal is merely salt water, and by definition that is what brine is,” Poole wrote to customers July 24. “But as we understand, there are many chemicals that make up this so-called ‘brine.’”
Poole said the district is limited in its ability to test for traces of these chemicals in the water supply, however, because companies are not required by law to divulge them.
“Of course, if a harmful substance is found, it will need to be removed,” Poole wrote. “The removal of contaminants unfortunately would come at a direct cost to you the customer.”
Poole said the goal of the letter was to keep customers well informed.
Writing to the ODNR, Poole explained that the Tuppers Plains-Chest Water District is a rural operation that serves about one-third of Athens County and two-thirds of Meigs County, comprising a population of just under 14,000.
The K&H company’s injection wells in eastern Athens County near Torch fall within the water district’s service area. The company has two injection wells in operation at that location with a third on the way.
Poole said that with new injection wells, the waste is coming not from the local area but in some cases hundreds of miles away, to be injected in Athens and Meigs counties.
“Ohioans understand that our state has laws that are less stringent than our neighbors,” Poole wrote. “Companies can get permits faster; there are no public hearings, and no requirements for chemical disclosure. It is clearly more profitable for out-of-state waste to come to Ohio.”
Poole asked why Ohio can’t have the same rules as other states for chemical disclosure.
“This waste has hundreds of chemicals, many toxic or hazardous to health, and radioactive materials,” he wrote. “Our board feels that we should be told, along with the public, what is in the injected material.”
Poole also took issue with the fact that Ohio has a 500,000-barrel limit on companies having to pay the state for injection, while other states charge fees for every barrel with no limit. He said that all injection wells should have a public hearing before wells are installed, that there should be limits for injection and fees on every barrel of waste injected.
“Let us be the most expensive dumping ground, not the cheapest,” he wrote. “Require monitoring wells in and around all injection wells. There is a great many voices stating this material will never come back to the surface and will never come back to our aquifer… If the drilling companies do not have monitoring wells to prove their argument, just about anything can be said.”
The ODNR’s response to Poole, from Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management Chief Richard J. Simmons, was much the same as the agency’s response to most letters of concern about the safety of injection wells, essentially stating that the ODNR already has the regulations in place to ensure the safety of waste-injection activity.
“The premise that underlies many of your stated concerns is inaccurate,” Simmons wrote Aug. 4, noting that the ODNR maintains a database of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. He also said that the U.S. EPA has concluded that Ohio laws and rules meet or exceed federal standards for brine disposal.
“Ohio’s regulations pertaining to Class II injection wells are more, not less, stringent than federal standards and regulations enacted by other neighboring states,” Simmons claimed.
He said Ohio’s greater number of injection wells than neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia is not because of lax regulation. He also noted that the well permitting process includes a public comment period that may include a public hearing.
In spite of thousands of concerns raised during the various public comment periods for injection well applications in Athens County, the ODNR has never held a public hearing here.
“I can assure you that the disposal of production fluid and brine by injection wells is a proven, effective and safe method,” Simmons responded to Poole.
As proof, Simmons said historic drilling practices “resulted in considerable damage to Ohio’s soil, groundwater and surface water resources,” but as injection became the primary method for disposal, “its success can be measured in the dramatic reduction and prevention” of environmental harm.
“As a regulatory agency, we are committed to enforcing the rules and regulations to protect the public health and safety of our Ohio residents,” Simmons said.