New injection well rules must be considered

Local government lacks the resources and expertise to take over local control of injection wells, but points they have outlined to tighten the state’s oversight are logical and should be welcomed and approved.

Dozens of people, including representatives of several other Ohio counties, gathered recently in Trumbull County to discuss what they see as an imbalance in the number of injection wells – that is, oil field waste disposal wells – operating in several Ohio counties, including Trumbull.

As of May 7, the ODNR reports that 203 injection wells were operating in Ohio, almost all of them in eastern Ohio. That is due largely to three factors: geology that is more conducive to accepting injected brine; proximity to the Utica and Marcellus Shale plays where horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is occurring; and proximity to Pennsylvania, which has heavy limitations on injection wells.

The group argues this is making Ohio and Trumbull County susceptible to environmental and infrastructure concerns. That is, high pressure created by injecting the waste into some wells located on fault lines – including at least two in the Mahoning Valley – have been known to trigger seismic activity.

Also heavy truck traffic hauling the brine and waste into many of these wells located in residential areas is taking its toll on area roads and is an aggravation to residents in these areas.

It’s a debate not easily solved because no one wants to stifle the economic growth and U.S. energy independence provided by shale drilling. Until a more efficient method of hydraulic fracturing is discovered, the need for brine disposal will remain.

That’s why suggestions outlined by the group make sense:

Notices of permit applications already sent to well owners and operators also should be sent to governmental entities, landowners and school districts in the area;

Area of review for wells should be expanded to 0.5 miles for landowners and six miles for government entities and school districts;

Permit applications should include a traffic impact study conducted by the county engineer;

Expand time to file comments and objections to proposed applications from 15 to 28 days;

Require a Road Use Maintenance Agreement (RUMA) for all well-drilling activity;

Hearings for objections to permits should be held at the nearest ODNR district office, not in Columbus;

Limit hours of injection wells not located within industrial zones to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays;

Require buffer zones within 100 feet from the well such as earthen berms, fences or landscaping;

Require new injection wells to adhere to the same setback requirements in place for shallow wells;

Water wells near injection sites should be tested regularly with results provided to ODNR;

Regular monitoring of should be done on the escape of noxious vapors at injection well sites, with results provided to ODNR.

While specifics of these items should be debated, overall the suggestions are logical and should be seriously considered by legislators and regulators of the industry not as an attempt to hinder or slow business operations, but rather as a common sense approach to providing Ohio’s industry and residents a safe and harmonious relationship.