Dangerous fracking waste bills considered

By Ted Auch and Teresa Mills

Guest columnists

This is an open letter aimed at all advocates for House Bill 578 whose title indicates it would establish 300- foot setbacks for new injection wells and require that municipal corporations or townships where waste is disposed to be paid 37.5 percent of the out-of-district injection well fee directly. Co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Michael J. O’Brien, Glenn Holmes, John Patterson and Craig Riedel.

However, we must insist that the last thing we need to do right now is attempt to monetize fracking’s waste impact on Ohioans, our water, our children and ecosystems. By giving townships a share of the revenue this bill would only incentivize communities to encourage more waste to come into their existing inventory of Class II Salt Water Disposal (SWD) Injection wells, creating yet another race to the bottom.

It looks like HB 578 supporters are concerned about the massive quantities of radioactive fracking waste coming across the Pennsylvania border and Ohio River. It is high time we pressure Pennsylvania and West Virginia to start processing their own waste and hold accountable the hydraulic fracturing industry for their increasing demand of resource (i.e., water, land-use and chemicals). Rep. Holmes said publicly that “communities need that money to mitigate the direct hazards or potential hazards that injection wells pose.” Yet, HB 578 would offer “crumbs” to these townships relative to the quantified ä and more importantly unquantifiable – environmental and health costs. If HB 578 advocates really want to help communities, they would introduce a bill banning permitting future Class II SWD wells and / or vocally support Brookfield residents fighting Seneca Resources unprecedented 5 injection well proposal adjacent to Wyngate Manor. Rep. O’Brien has said HB 578 “could be some type of allowances they are willing to do with the neighbors,” and his use of the word “allowances” begs the question: Are these companies benevolent parents and the townships their subservient and pliant children willing to take anything they can get for fear of not getting anything at all?

If this bill passes, it is a fact that we would see more brine trucks, driving faster, spilling or turning over more often than we do now. We already are way behind in quantifying how often these trucks spill or are involved in accidents with injuries. Furthermore, the fact that much of this waste is radioactive but mandatory characterization of radiation levels is not required should be incentivizing us to move in the opposite direction of HB 578ás intended goals. With all due respect HB 578 and related bills like HB 393 and SB 165 are three of the worst ideas we have seen in our time looking at the fracking industry, and that analysis has included other states where fracking waste is a major factor including Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas. Much of the “induced seismicity” in these states has been a result of Class II injection well pressure and volume regimes that the underlying geologies can’t handle and aging Class II well inventory were never designed to accept.

To encourage the Class II injection well disposal industry and / or somehow justify it by monetizing it is the exact opposite thing we need to do right now. It is a dangerous slope. Selling the neighbors of these injection wells out in the name of a couple shekels for townships would set a precedent that no one should want to attach their names to. To those legislators from Ashtabula and Trumbull counties I would say that it might seem like they are doing a favor for their constituents that live near these Class II SWD wells by monetizing something for them that they are going to experience regardless. However, by monetizing fracking waste from out-of-state (or in-state, for that matter), they are sending a message that the industry will be received with open arms and encouraged to inject early and often their radioactive brine waste in the county’s dozens of wells. They will be encouraging counties or townships that don’t have Class II wells to “get in the game” even though the information asymmetry associated with this waste angle is significant leaving communities at a sizable disadvantage when it comes to making the types of long-term decisions such wells require.

Ted Auch, PhD, is Great Lakes Program coordinator and lead researcher for The FracTracker Alliance. Teresa Mills is director of Buckeye Environmental Network.

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