WEATHERSFIELD - Cooperative efforts to develop a 100-acre parcel between Weathersfield and neighboring Niles city could fall by the wayside if a state agency gives the go-ahead for construction of two new brine disposal wells here, officials in both communities say.
But dozens of pages of documentation filed by the Howland company that wants to drill the injection wells indicate the wells will be safe, and if it is approved, officials at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources say they will work to ensure that.
Officials in Weathersfield and Niles for months have been working to create a Joint Economic Development District that includes a brownfield site in Weathersfield Township with hopes of seeking grant money to clean up the land where Republic Steel once operated and then redevelop it.
Weathersfield Trustee Steven Gerberry stands along state Route 169 near the Niles-Weathersfield border. The site is a proposed Tribune Chronicle / Brenda J. Linert
Joint Economic Development District, but officials fear the deal may be in jeopardy due to plans for two injection wells in the area.
But after reading a legal advertisement published last month in the Tribune Chronicle indicating that American Water Management Services LLC in Howland has applied with ODNR for permits for two wells for the injection of brine water produced in the the oil and gas drilling industry, their joint focus quickly shifted.
''We fought it. We sent letters and said we are against it,'' Niles Mayor Ralph Infante said last week. ''It would just ruin everything. Who's going to want to build there?"
Weathersfield Township Trustee Steven Gerberry was similarly concerned.
''If the (JEDD) agreement is in place between us and Niles, then we could approach the Regional Chamber and let them know what we have to offer and hopefully make it more appealing to companies,'' Gerberry said. ''But this may deter people from looking at the land.''
Both officials also expressed concern with the potential for increased truck traffic hauling hazardous materials along with possible seismic activity.
''The township is not against fracking and getting the natural gas. It's the disposal of the brine that is worrisome,'' Gerberry said.
Officials in both communities have taken public votes opposing the injection wells, but still they realize approval is out of their hands and in the hands of ODNR.
According to the permit applications, ODNR is considering permits for the two injection wells on a 100-acre tract of land along state Route 169 at the Niles-Weathersfield border.
According to the documents, if approved, about 1,000 barrels of brine could be injected at high pressure into the first well, reaching depths of up to 4,700 feet. Higher volumes reaching an average of 2,200 barrels would be injected as deep as 9,100 feet for the second well.
Brine is salty water generated during the drilling process, created by naturally occurring elements and mixtures of chemicals used during the fracking process.
The application for both injection wells was made by American Water Management Services late in December, but they had been on hold, along with 31 other injection well applications statewide after new regulations were placed on drilling new injection wells. That came following a series of 11 earthquakes last year experts believe were linked to a Youngstown injection well.
The moratorium continues to ban waste disposal in injection wells within a mile of the Youngstown well. But beginning July 10, ODNR again began considering permits for new Ohio injection wells. Any approval for new wells will be based on new stricter regulations adopted in an executive order signed by Gov. John Kasich.
''We have begun reviewing again,'' said ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans. ''With the changes, we believe our regulations are now the most comprehensive in the country.''
Of the 33 injection well permits under review, a third are in Trumbull County and another third are in neighboring Mahoning and Portage counties.
Hetzel-Evans said she suspects the high number of applications for northeast Ohio could be related to the proximity to Pennsylvania and to the porous nature of the underground formations here.
Pennsylvania has very few injection wells and transports much of its brine to Ohio. Fees for injecting brine are 5 cents per barrel for in-state brine and 20 cents per barrel for out-of-state brine. Last year, Ohio's 178 active injection wells accepted 12.5 million barrels of brine. About 54 percent of that brine came from out of state, Hetzel-Evans said.
The previous year, 2010, 8.1 million barrels of brine were disposed of in Ohio's injection wells. Statistics showing how much of that came from Ohio or from other states were not available.
Hetzel-Evans defended ODNR's management of injection wells, pointing out that in nearly 30 years of management, there has never been a ground water contamination issue involving an injection well.
''According to the U.S. EPA, this is the most safe method of disposal (for brine),'' Hetzel-Evans said.
She could not give a timeframe for review of the applications, but when it comes time for a public hearing, Infante said he will be there to object.
Attempts to reach Steve Kilper, an official with American Waste Management Systems listed on the paperwork pending with ODNR, were unsuccessful. He did not immediately return phone messages or an email.
''We are going to give it our best shot,'' Infante said. ''We have got to protect our citizens and our area.''