Exploring wells

David Ballentine stood among the five storage tanks and just in front of the pipe that sends wastewater 3,900 feet beneath the surface.

One of six Class 2 oil and gas injection wells owned by the Garrettsville resident, the site in Windham was Wednesday’s staging ground for a media tour and discussion hosted by the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.

Ballentine, 48, said he deals only with local companies drilling the Clinton shale formation, which sits above the much publicized and deeper Utica formations. He said hosting the tour stop was an effort to bring awareness about his wells and safety practices.

“It’s all local water that I haul with my own trucks,” Ballentine said. “It is produced water and drilling fluids that Clinton produces.”

Ballentine’s well averages about 250 barrels of wastewater injected per day. The wastewater is removed from trucks or tankers, stored in five large containment units, separated and put through several filtration systems. From there, the brine is dumped into the injection well, where pressure monitors gauge the state of the well.

“For my six wells overall, I’d say about 1,200 barrels per day total,” Ballentine said.

“People need to understand a little bit more about what the oil and gas industry is,” he said. ” It’s not all about just the Utica. There are still the regular little farm producers, which are the wells I take care of. I don’t bring any wastewater in from out-of-state.”

Exactly where the brine or wastewater comes from has been one of many public concerns involving hydraulic fracturing.

A study released by Kent State and Duke universities in January showed brine water being injected into Ohio wells has increased 570 percent since 2004. There is speculation the numbers will continue to increase as new wells are approved. According to the survey, which used figures from 2011, more than half the wastewater injected in Ohio wells came from out of state, mainly West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

David Hill, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said wells like the ones on Ballentine’s property are constantly monitored for saturation levels. When a new well is deemed operational, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources sets the level of saturation based on pressure.

“They have geologists and hydrologists and they’ll say your well is ‘x’ feet deep and they come up with a formula based on hydrostatic pressure,” Hill said. “We have devices at our wells, and if they pressure up to that point, we shut down.”

According to Hill, Ohio injected about 12 million barrels into the ground in 2012.

“That represents just one half of 1 percent of all the wastewater injected in the United States,” Hill said. “It’s infinitesimal what we’re doing in Ohio as it compares to the nation.”

Another hot-button issue for the public has been seismic activity at and around hydraulic fracturing sites. Around a dozen earthquakes in northeastern Ohio were blamed on the fracking process.

Hill said recent legislation has helped eliminate this issue.

“Senate Bill 315 was born out of that,” Hill said. “It says if you’re in an area that is prone to fractures, prone to earthquakes, ODNR can say you are going to run an array of seismic lines. Before you drill that well, you are going to spend $1 million on seismic testing, and if they don’t like those results or they’re concerned about those results, you never get started. You don’t drill your well.

“That should alleviate some of the fears of people in Ohio that the state is watching and they’re not going to let you drill in an area that is prone to seismic activity.”

There are six classifications of injection wells as set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Class 2 wells are specifically used for the disposal of waste products produced by the oil and gas industry. Penny Seipel, vice president of public affairs for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, explained how the classifications work.

“Out of all the classifications, Class 2 injection wells are considered high volume, low toxicity by U.S. EPA,” Seipel said.

Class 1 injection wells are used to store byproducts from industries like petroleum refining and steel manufacturing.

“Think of all the different industrial processes that we have in all the different things that we make,” Hill said. “There are some really corrosive fluids out there in industrial processes. Those go down Class 1 injection wells.Class 1 injection wells are operating in the state of Ohio.

“If you didn’t have injection wells, you’d shut down the economy of the United States. We wouldn’t be able to make stuff because we have to be able to dispose of this stuff,” he said.

At the end of the day, Ballentine – who also produces natural gas wells – wants people to know the industry is closely regulated.

“By watching the media, you see how the protesters have been going out and violating people and impeding their businesses,” Ballentine said. “I’ve been doing this for close to 20 years with no complaints. All of a sudden, all this stuff has been going on with the Utica and we’re in the spotlight.”