Group opposing well activity shakes up Weathersfield trustee meeting

WEATHERSFIELD — Chris Khumprakob said she is so concerned about what injection wells could do to the Mahoning Valley that she got herself arrested to bring attention to it, and would gladly do so again.

“Never in my life did I think I would be arrested. But when the oil and gas industry started fracking and building injection wells, my thinking changed,” Khumprakob said. “It would be my pleasure to come to Weathesfield Township again and get arrested.”

She said she needed a “powerful” way to reach the public about the effects of injection well chemicals on cancer rates, birth defects and miscarriages, and so got herself arrested at the Weathersfield well, just off state Route 169.

Niles Municipal Court records show she was charged with trespassing in 2013. Khumprakob, of Youngstown, pleaded no contest and was found guilty, ordered to pay fines and given a suspended jail sentence of 30 days.

Still, Khumprakob said she would do it again if it helps keep fracking out of the community — adding that Weathersfield police were kind when they took her in.

“I did it to protect our environment, to protect our wildlife, our people and especially our children,” Khumprakob said. “I was appalled that the injection well here was near a school.”

But it isn’t only chemicals that has people associated with Frackfree Ohio worried. They are concerned about earthquakes too, and Weathersfield trustees said they are listening.

In response to concern an injection well might restart operations just off state Route 169 in the township, trustees are organizing a meeting of surrounding community officials, emergency responders and other area stakeholders.

Trustee Gil Blair said in addition to discussing the options officials have in the matter, the meeting should also result in emergency response plans in case there is a large earthquake, or a failure of the Meander Reservoir dam, which would cause massive flooding and the destruction of the water source for about 220,000, or both. Leaders in Niles, Youngstown, Warren, Lordstown, their emergency responders and other communities in the area will be invited to participate, Blair said.

The township and neighboring municipalities don’t have much say in the injection well operations. Class II wells are regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and the matter is being hashed out in a Columbus courtroom.

Although ODNR ordered the shu down of an American Water Management Services deep-brine injection well in September 2014 following a 2.1-magnitude earthquake, a judge last month ordered the two submit proposals outlining what conditions could lead to the reopening of the well.

Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Kimberly Cocroft gave both sides 30 days to submit a plan that “would initially limit the amount of volume, the amount of saltwater and brine that is being put into the well; initially limit the amount of pressure used; and then incrementally increase the volume and pressure while simultaneously providing constant monitoring for seismicity; and address the concerns of public health and safety,” her Dec. 23 ruling states.

In 250 years of history in the Mahoning Valley, there was no significant seismic activity until fracking began, said Dr. Raymond E. Beiersdorfer, a geology professor at Youngstown State University.

But a seismic study shows, “There were 108 recognizable earthquakes due to that injection well. And what is scientifically interesting, is there is a cluster just below the well, and then there was another cluster just 500 feet away. So, the fluid pressure migrated five football fields away and triggered a set of earthquakes on another fault,” Beiersdorfer said.

“There is a geological reason why (these earthquakes) are there,” Beiersdorfer said.

Beiersdorfer, Khumprakob and several others encouraged others who are concerned to reach out to their legislators, state agencies, community leaders and each other.