Coshocton County group opposes company's effort to accept more injection-well fluids

2018-06-10 | The Columbus Dispatch

June 10--COSHOCTON -- A company operating injection wells in Coshocton County has asked regulators to allow a change in its permitting to accept industrial and other nonhazardous waste fluids instead of just oilfield brine.

If Buckeye Brine is successful, it would mark the first time an Ohio Class II injection well was switched to a Class I.

Operators say they've been pumping oilfield fluids into rock formations deep underground for several years without incident, that the facility was built to exceed injection-well standards and that the permitting change would provide an environmentally friendly alternative for disposing of nonhazardous waste fluids.

"We've operated flawlessly for five years," said Steve Mobley, company president. "We're experienced at this business and we're doing a good thing for the surface waters of the state and making industrial businesses better able to operate affordably."

But a local environmental group opposes the move, citing continued concerns about toxic fluids being pumped into the ground. Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness, or CECA (http://www.cecaware.org), and its supporters are posting "No Class I Injection Wells" signs along some roads in the vicinity and urging regulators to reject the application. A billboard with the message is planned along Route 16.

"You can't take this rotten apple and make it good," said Tim Kettler, a member of the nonprofit advocacy group's board. "Our position on this is this whole method of wastewater disposal is improper. It's going to be our legacy, this 7 billion gallons of unknown wastewater ... beneath our community for our children and grandchildren."

The signs have prompted debate in Coshocton, about an hour and a half northeast of Columbus. Community groups and some residents have visited the injection well site in recent weeks and been given tours of the operations and explanations of the company's proposal.

"There's a lot of mis-truths, there's a lot of fear factors going on in the community," said Amy Stockdale, executive director of the Coshocton County Chamber of Commerce. "We want people to understand this is a business that employs locals, they've been very generous to our community. Their safety records stand alone."

Oil and natural gas exploration and production have steadily increased during the past half-dozen or so years in eastern Ohio and other states, thanks to the emergence of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The process involves drilling thousands of feet underground and then out horizontally, pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into shale formations to force out oil and gas.

To date, about 2,400 of the horizontal wells have been drilled in Ohio's Utica and Marcellus shale regions. More than 4.1 million barrels of oil and 503 billion cubic feet of natural gas were produced in the state from horizontal wells during the last three months of 2017, up 16.3 percent and 38.4 percent, respectively, from the last quarter of 2016, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The fracking activity produces briny waste fluids that have to be disposed of properly. That's where Buckeye Brine and other injection-well operators enter the picture.

In Ohio, there are different classes of injection wells that handle different types of waste fluids. Oilfield brine is pumped into porous rock formations deep underground under regulations administered by ODNR.

There are requirements for the depths of such wells, intended to ensure that injection areas are far beneath groundwater supplies. There are also multiple layers of casings on related piping to ensure waste fluids don't leak, plus seismic monitoring to ensure injections don't trigger earthquakes.

Other types of injection wells are permitted to handle industrial and other types of waste fluids. Those Class I wells are regulated by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

There are only 10 Class I wells in Ohio. Buckeye Brine is asking for two of its Class II wells to be converted to Class I wells.

The company began injecting oilfield waste at three wells in Coshocton County about five years ago.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, a steady stream of trucks enters the facility. From the time their tires pass the gate, they and the fluids they carry are closely monitored, said Monty Shell, operations manager.

The company employs more than three dozen people. The facility was built with extra containment measures and already exceeds many of the standards for both Class I and II wells, Shell said.

Under a Class I permit, Buckeye Brine would be able to accept waste fluids from industrial equipment operators, soap manufacturers, food processors, power plants, wastewater treatment plants or landfills.

Those fluids, all categorized as nonhazardous, currently are treated and often end up in Ohio's rivers and streams, Mobley said.

There are no plans to accept hazardous waste, as Ohio's other Class I wells do, said David Durakovich, vice president of operations. Any move to allow hazardous waste at the site would require a more in-depth permitting process involving federal regulators, he said.

Buckeye Brine's permitting paperwork also lists sewage, infectious waste, radioactive materials, explosives and other fluids among waste it would not allow.

Kettler said CECA has met with Ohio EPA, local governments and citizens to voice opposition to injection wells in general and Buckeye Brine's permit proposal in particular. CECA formed about the time that horizontal hydraulic fracturing began spreading in eastern Ohio, and the group has opposed fracking and injection wells from the start.

"We're pretty much against fossil fuels in general," said Nick Teti, another CECA board member. "We'd like to transition away from carbon fuels."

Buckeye Brine has been working with state regulators for almost two years, submitting its formal application in April 2017, Durakovich said.

Ohio EPA would next have to issue a draft permit and schedule a comment period and a public meeting where residents could raise concerns and ask questions, said Dina Pierce, spokeswoman for Ohio EPA's northwest and southwest district.

mkovac@dispatch.com

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