By Bob Downing
Akron Beacon Journal
Over the last four years, enough yellow-brown, salty liquid has been injected thousands of feet under Portage County to fill railroad tank cars stretching for 63 miles. Injecting that waste underground made Portage County No. 2 in Ohio.
From 2007 through 2010, Portage injection wells handled nearly 4 million 42-gallon barrels of waste, according to records from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Mineral Resources Management.
That’s nearly 168 million gallons, or enough to fill enough rail tank cars to stretch from Akron to Mansfield.
As the drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” grows in horizontal wells in shale deposits under Ohio to unlock oil and gas deposits valued at billions of dollars, so will the production of drilling fluids that must be redeposited deep underground through Ohio’s injection wells.
Nearly 50 percent of the waste being injected in Ohio in 2011 is coming from Pennsylvania, where a drilling boom into the Marcellus shale is under way.
Pennsylvania last May banned shipments of drilling waste to its sewage treatment plants for discharge into local streams. Because of its underground geology, the state has only eight injection wells.
Ohio, on the other hand, has 181 wells.
Ohio drillers are worried that the flood of Pennsylvania shipments will reduce space for Ohio waste as drilling into the potentially lucrative Marcellus and Utica shales spreads into Ohio, says Tom Stewart, executive director of the 1,500-member Ohio Oil & Gas Association.
Ohio cannot ban such shipments from other states because they are protected under the U.S. Constitution. [Bullshit]
The anticipated boom in Ohio shale drilling will increase opportunities for supporting businesses, such as the people who lease their land for injection wells and the companies that haul the briny wastes.
Roger Root, who lives in Trumbull County’s Newton Township, has three injection wells on his family’s 168-acre farm, and they have not caused any problems, he said.
“To be honest, you sort of forget that they are there,” he said of the wells just east of the Portage-Trumbull County line.
Because of the injection wells’ steel and concrete barriers, there have been “absolutely no problems” with the family’s drinking-water wells, he said.
Some of the family’s water wells are close to the injection wells, which reach down more than 4,000 feet, the 58-year-old Root said.
The wells were drilled in the 1980s to extract natural gas but were changed over to injection when it became clear that no gas was to be found in that underground formation.
Root said he works with a reliable hauler, Ray Pander Trucking.
That firm, based in Palmyra Township, handles drilling wastes from Ohio and Pennsylvania at its eight injections wells in Portage, Stark and Trumbull counties, said spokesman R.C. Pander, Ray’s son.
The company, with 30 employees and 22 trucks, hauls three commodities: fresh water for drilling, brine from wells that are operational and flowback water that comes from the drilling process.
In 2010, the firm handled about 400,000 42-gallon barrels of drilling wastes from as far away as Williamsport, Pa., R.C. Pander said.
The volume of wastes is up 74 percent from 2010 to 2011 and about 20 percent from the first quarter of 2011 to the second quarter, he said.
In the last quarter of 2010, the firm got about 5 percent of its drilling wastes from Pennsylvania. That grew to 23 percent from January through March and to 47 percent from April through June, he said.
Ohio injections grow
In Ohio, the volume of injection wells may increase nearly 50 percent, from 6 million to 7 million barrels before 2010 to more than 9 million this year.
The state’s 181 wells are in 36 counties.
From 2007 to 2010, Ohio injected more than 28 million barrels, or nearly 1.2 billion gallons. That would create a train that would stretch 450 miles, from Akron to Richmond, Va.
State records show that Ohio has injected nearly 162 million barrels of drilling wastes since 1978, or more than 6.8 billion gallons. That’s enough to create a train stretching 2,520 miles, from Akron to Houston, Texas, and back.
The Akron-Canton area is playing a big role.
Portage and Stark counties each have 16 wells — the most in the state.
Although it has fewer wells, Washington County at Marietta injected 4.2 million barrels from 2007 to 2010, slightly more than Portage.
Stark County ranks third for volume with nearly 2.6 million barrels in that time.
Summit, Medina and Wayne counties together accounted for another 500,000 barrels.
Under state law that went into effect in 1985, all drilling waste liquids in Ohio must be injected underground through pressurized wells that extend into brine-bearing formations or depleted gas-oil formations.
State officials say there is no evidence that the wells have created environmental problems, but critics remain skeptical, worried that drinking water is at risk.
The wastes are high in dissolved solids and contain sodium chloride, calcium and magnesium, plus toxic chemicals from the drilling process and low levels of naturally occurring radioactive materials from the underground rock.
Traces of barium, zinc, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, mercury and nickel are also commonly found in brine.
Experts note that drinking water is much closer to the surface, far away from the injection zones and separated from the rock formations that get the injected liquids.
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