Hydraulic fracturing — fracking, for short — is a fact of life in Ohio. The state has issued more than 1,000 permits in recent years for the controversial drill-and-injection method of extracting oil and natural gas from ancient shale deposits, mostly in the eastern part of Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is expected to issue new rules soon to regulate fracking. The rules need to strengthen oversight, especially of the use and reuse of water and disposal of waste related to the process.
For example, the state should not approve huge, open pits for storing water tainted by toxic chemicals during the fracking process. A fracked well can use as much as 4 million of gallons of fresh water. The water is mixed with sand and chemicals and injected to fracture shale layers and release trapped oil and gas.
About one-fifth of the water used in fracking flows back to the surface. It carries concentrations of iron, bacteria, solids, salts, toxic heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive elements such as radium.
In states such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia, oil and gas companies use huge lagoons to store such water temporarily. It then is recycled, reused, or transported to disposal facilities that inject it deep into wells.
Large storage lagoons can poison wildlife and pose the potential for fouling ground and drinking water. In other states, such football field-sized pits hold as much as 3 million gallons of leftover water. Even smaller lagoons still require scientifically based floodplain controls, the Ohio Environmental Council sensibly argues.
The Ohio DNR gave The Blade a draft copy of rules it is thinking of applying to storage and recycling facilities for flowback water. The proposed rules would establish minimum distances between the facilities and streams, mandate spill-containment measures, and define the types of synthetic, impermeable liners required for waste storage.
The rules need to prevent spills of the used water, to guard drinking water sources. Solid waste from fracking should be strictly controlled, so that toxic contaminants — especially radium — do not end up in landfills.
The environmental council says that the state’s definition of naturally occurring radioactive material is too narrow, and that potentially dangerous substances could wind up in landfills. The council wants the definition of such substances to match stricter standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Before recycled water from fracking is sent to local water plants, it should be cleaned up to the point that it does not overtax these facilities. More-extensive controls are needed for these giant drilling sites; some areas resemble mini-industrial sites, with multiple wells operating on five-acre pads.
Above all, the rules should protect oil and gas workers who are exposed to these and other dangerous materials. Years from now, these workers should not have to deal with health problems that result from working with contaminants.
Many of the largest oil and gas companies in the nation and world are in Ohio for the fracking boom. The DNR needs to protect Ohio’s environment on behalf of its citizens.