The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and 10 other individuals and organizations filed a letter today asking the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to strengthen its rules for wastewater injection wells, which are used to dispose of wastewater produced during fracking.
NRDC says the tougher regulations could prevent more incidents like the earthquakes experienced in Youngstown, Ohio around New Year’s Eve. The earthquakes were linked to wastewater injection wells in the Youngstown area.
Tougher regulations could also prevent water contamination, according to the letter. Recent investigations have found that wastewater disposed in injection wells might be seeping through the ground and leaking into the surface or contaminating nearby water sources. But Heidi Hetzel-Evans, spokesperson for ODNR, says regulators have not recorded any groundwater contamination from Class II injection wells in Ohio since ODNR took over the program in 1983.
In short, the NRDC letter says ODNR should make more seismic and geological tests mandatory for injection wells. Under current law, ODNR has to suggest more seismic and geological tests. If they were mandatory, all operators would have to run the tests before a wastewater injection well is approved. Along with this requirement, NRDC also calls for more geologic information to be submitted with permit requests.
The structure of injection wells is also a concern. In the letter, the organization calls for tougher injection well standards that ensure the wells can withstand corrosive effects from fluids deposited in injection wells and any hydraulic pressure experienced during the dumping and storing process. With these standards, it would be much more difficult for wastewater to leak through the wells.
The letter includes additional recommendations that ask for clearer minimum standards, more water tests, checkups on wells, more protections for landowners near injection wells, and more. The full recommendations can be read in the letter here.
The call for more regulation is largely in response to new rules that Gov. John Kasich signed in with an executive order on July 12. Hetzel-Evans defended the current rules by pointing out they are flexible yet often stronger than minimum requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Hetzel-Evans has not been able to see the full suggestions in the letter yet, but she says one of the strengths of the current rules is that they don’t burden operators with unnecessary tests. She cited the example of some wells being way too shallow for earthquake activity to be an issue. Seismic testings in those wells would serve no purpose, she says.
Cincinnati City Council recently banned wastewater injection wells within city limits. But ODNR has received no permit requests for wastewater injection wells in southwestern Ohio. Hetzel-Evans says southwestern Ohio’s geology makes any shale drilling and wastewater injection wells unfeasible.