Officials look to RUMAs to control injection wells
WARREN – Jack Simon describes the “bumpy” path leading to a typical brine-injection well site as a “world of difference” from the ride on the other side where the road is often “smooth and even.”
Simon, who negotiates Road Use Maintenance Agreements for the Trumbull County Engineer’s Office, said county officials started seeing an increase in road damage near injection well sites caused by increased truck traffic a few years ago with the uptick in local gas and oil activity.
They launched an effort to use RUMAs as a way to alleviate the problem, and in effect, exert control over injection wells and the companies that operate them.
“Actually, our roadways are really the only way we have to control them,” Simon said. “We started looking at the roads and realized what a difference there was from the ingress to the well sites, with the road all torn up and bumpy, compared to the side of the road the trucks use to leave the site.”
The engineer’s office took a closer look at road damage along Warner Road in Fowler after Heckmann Water Resources, which operates an injection well north of state Route 305, asked county officials what they planned to do about the deterioration.
The injection well had existed for years, but activity there was “ramped up when Utica and Marcellus shale efforts started ramping up,” Simon said.
It was determined by an independent engineering firm that the road, which had a posted weight limit of 15 tons, was not adequate to handle the weight of the trucks traveling it. In comparison, most dump trucks weigh 30 tons.
Simon said the county cited Heckmann after the company ignored weight limit signs posted on the road.
The company, wanting to continue its well operations, agreed to upgrade the road and signed off on a memorandum of understanding with the county in September 2013.
“Injection wells have been around a long time and we realized a long time ago that locally we don’t have any control over them,” Simon said. “The state has the control. But I don’t think we ever realized how much truck traffic there actually is near an injection well, especially since the increase in shale.”
Local officials cannot stop an injection well from operating, but they can take steps to load limit the road if an independent engineer deems it insufficient for heavy truck traffic.
“If the road is posted and the trucks exceed the weight limits, we can work from that,” Simon said. “They can file for a permit to run the trucks, but we can say no, that the road can’t handle that.”
The county engineer’s office started making a greater effort to put responsibility for road repairs and maintenance on well owners and operators. In 2013, the engineer’s office extended standards specific to horizontal drilling – bonds or letters of credit for infrastructure improvements and liability insurance – to existing and potential gas and oil processing facilities in the county, like injection wells or compressor stations.
In Ohio, a company is required to attempt to negotiate a RUMA with local officials for horizontal, or fracking, wells. However, if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, the company may proceed with well operations.
“We could take them to court but that’s not always a practical solution,” Simon said.
On May 7, 2014, Heckmann signed off on a RUMA. The county has since entered into RUMAs or MOUs with other companies and has others pending. For example, the county is working on a MOU with American Energy Inc., which is looking to operate an injection well on leased property along McMullen Street in Brookfield.
When it comes to injection wells, owners / operations are not required to make an effort to negotiate a RUMA with the county.
A standard provision in a RUMA is that the company pays a bond, often in the amount of $100,000. Simon said bond amounts are specific to the route length.
If a road sustains truck damage and the drilling company doesn’t make good on its agreement, the county can pull the bond to pay to repair it.
The county engineer’s office has been working with a committee within the Trumbull County Township Association seeking to reform Ohio’s stand on injection wells. At 19, Trumbull has more injection wells than any other county in the state.
One of the committee’s proposals calls on the state to require RUMAs for all well drilling activity, whether existing or proposed.
“This is one area of concern residents have, their roads,” said Dominic Marchese, who heads the committee. “It’s not a lot that we have to work with, but it’s something.”
Not long after the committee was formed earlier this year officials learned of a chemical spill in Vienna that was tied to Kleese Development Associates, which operates several injection wells in Trumbull County.
Last year, KDA, which had worked with Heckmann, asked the county for a MOU. Kleese agreed to pay $21,500 to have a portion of Sodom Hutchings Road in Vienna repaired and upgraded. The road had been identified as “having “fallen into a state of disrepair,” the MOU states. The county secured grant funding to help pay a portion of the cost to repair and maintain the road.
Matt Kleese, vice president of operations for Warren-based KDA, previously said he had no problem agreeing to a MOU with the county because as a businessman and local resident he also was concerned about road conditions.
Simon pointed out that not all of the truck traffic on Sodom Hutchings Road is connected to Kleese.
Vienna trustee Phil Pegg pointed out injection wells are “unmanned” and the truck traffic is “around the clock.” He is also part of the township association’s committee, which wants to see hours of operation at injection wells limited to regular business hours on weekdays.
The committee in recent weeks has grown to include various officials, groups and organizations in several counties. Last week, the committee shared 11 changes to the permit process that members are proposing during a meeting at the Trumbull County commissioners’ meeting room. Many of the proposals address injection well location, operation and testing.
The committee’s purpose stems from the fact that the state, and not local government, has control over injection wells proposals with close to 100 people at a gathering inside the Trumbull County commissioners’ meeting room. Committees members said their list is a work in progress, with more suggestions to be added.