As a service to citizens, it is necessary to provide facts in response to your Dec. 20, 2018, news article, “Injection Rejection – Citizens Make Passionate Case Against Injection Wells”, about the Dec. 18 public hearing hosted by the Athens County Commissioners. Requested by Athens County Fracking Action Network, the hearing allowed citizens to comment on Jeff Harper’s application to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for a massive fourth injection well at his K&H facility adjacent to Torch, Ohio.
Your article quoted extensive pre-hearing statements by Mr. Harper about the three injection wells already receiving toxic radioactive frack waste at the facility. Since confirmation of assertions by the operator of an industrial facility of extreme concern to our community is essential and since the article lacked any such confirmation, I did my own fact checking.
Public testimony at the public hearing addressed many areas of concern, including: 1) harm from current air pollution; 2) harm from potential water contamination; and 3) harm from seismicity and potential earthquakes induced by injection. The results of my inquiries follow, with quotes from your article.
1. “Harper said his company hires qualified scientists to perform air-quality tests in accordance with Title V of the federal Clean Air Act…” An online U.S. EPA database reveals that no Clean Air Act (“CAA”) Title V Permit has been issued to Mr. Harper, his company, K&H Partners LLC, or any other company associated with Mr. Harper. Ohio EPA has been granted authority by the federal EPA to issue CAA permits. The Ohio EPA regulator in charge of those permits confirmed to me in a phone call that Mr. Harper and K&H have no Title V CAA Permit, and that the facility is exempt from Title V and the CAA due to the “Halliburton Loophole” (the 2005 federal Energy Policy Act exemption of oil and gas waste from CAA and other federal laws). She said the only air permit issued to K&H was for backup electrical generators and for dust control on the driveway and parking area.
2. “He [Harper] claimed that ‘we’ve never had an issue, ever’ with the K&H well site in Torch.” However, ODNR records reveal K&H had a major spill while drilling the first well and a significant spill related to a separator. ODNR inspection records also reveal the unexpected failure of the tubing and packer on the K&H Well #1 (in October 2016). Packer fluid is intended to prevent corrosion to tubing and prevent water contamination by stopping injectate from flowing upwards in the borehole.
3. Remarkably, Harper said “…The company also has ‘tons of engineering controls’ in place to prevent groundwater pollution, though he argued that the region doesn’t have much groundwater to pollute. ‘You can’t drill a water well in this area and get any water’…” Torch residents, including some at the hearing, would easily refute this claim, as do ODNR Division of Water Resources online records, which document 26 licensed water wells within a mile of K&H, 46 licensed wells within two miles, and 190 licensed wells in Troy Township. (Unlicensed water wells, commonplace in Athens County, are not counted by ODNR.)
4. Regarding Mr. Harper’s “‘tons of engineering controls,’” one must ask what these are. Considering the extremely high volumes of waste injected at increasingly high pressures and that there are no means to document migration other than finding contamination in monitoring wells, which are lacking at Class II sites, or by water sampling, which is not done in Ohio, Mr. Harper’s unprofessional statement clearly should not go unchallenged.
5. “In his comments, Harper said his company… has had devices in place to monitor seismic activity… for three years, yet still has not found any issues on those fronts.” This begs the question: His three operating wells are permitted to inject 17,000 barrels of liquid waste a day. (A barrel is 42 gallons.) His pending application for 20,000 barrels/day would thus more than double the daily total. Increased volumes of injected waste under pressure increase probability of earthquakes, according to researchers and USGS. Earthquakes can occur at least 20 miles from point of injection (Keranen et al, 2014: science.sciencemag.org/content/345/6195/448) and many years after injection. So lack of earthquakes at the K&H facility to date does not indicate lack of either current or future impacts. References to this research, provided to your reporter after the hearing, are at acfan.org’s injection well page (and cited in Heather Cantino’s K&H#4 comments, uploaded there). Numerous earthquakes, documented by ODNR to have been caused by injection, have occurred in nearby Washington and Monroe counties. Finally, Mr. Harper did not voluntarily pay to monitor seismic activity. ODNR ordered him to do so for a very good reason: serious concerns already exist.
5. Some questions to ask Mr. Harper of his “jobs with benefits” claim – are the jobs to local residents and full-time? Do “benefits” include health insurance? Are workers tested for radioactivity and toxic exposures? What is the turnover rate?
6. “Harper… has said that the concerns many activists have regarding injection wells’ potential dangers are based on misinformation and… unfounded.” As my brief search revealed, facts to refute Mr. Harper are not hard to find.
When unpaid citizens rather than journalists must provide the public with facts, which end up in an opinion piece rather than in much more prominently placed and frequently read news articles, industry gets a free pass. This grave issue is not just about opinions! Rapidly expanding fossil-fuel industrialization threatens the entire Ohio Appalachian region, as our lawmakers continue to give industry a blank check to pollute, refusing to pass laws to protect us.
Since there is clearly no safe, let alone economical way to dispose of this high-volume toxic, radioactive waste, protective laws would likely put operators such as Jeff Harper out of business. Luckily, there is no valid reason for this waste to be produced, since clean-energy alternatives are available, cost-effective and more economically beneficial to our communities and to the planet.
Editor’s note: Roxanne Groff is a former Athens County Commissioner and has worked on environmental justice issues for over 40 years.