COLUMBUS — Ohio’s growing shale-drilling industry has created a boom for the businesses that take waste from oil and gas wells.
The number of disposal wells in Ohio, currently 179, is poised to explode. State regulators approved permits for four new wells last week and are processing applications for 31 more.
The list includes an application from Knox Energy Inc., a Pataskala-based company that wants to convert an inactive oil and gas well in Knox County into a disposal well.
The company wants the disposal well to take waste from the 280 conventional oil and gas wells nearby. It would mostly take “brine,” a wastewater laden with salt and metals that bubbles up with oil and gas, said Mark Jordan, Knox Energy’s CEO.
“We want to streamline our disposal costs,” Mr. Jordan said. “We might let a few other people put [waste]water into our well if we get it, but really, percentagewise, we’re going to use most of it ourselves.”
Most of the proposed new wells follow a flood of “fracking” waste that has largely poured into Ohio from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale-drilling boom. More fracking waste is expected as drillers tap oil and gas buried in Ohio’s Utica shale.
Fracking is a process in which millions of gallons of water laced with sand and chemicals are used to shatter shale and free trapped oil and gas. After a well is “completed,” a portion of the fracking water comes back up.
From January through June, disposal wells injected 12.2 million barrels of fracking waste and brine, 56 percent of which came from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Most of the new disposal wells would be in eastern Ohio, including 10 proposed wells in Trumbull County and eight more in Portage County.
Disposal wells received scant attention until a series of earthquakes that shook Youngstown last year were linked to a well that has since been shut down.
The state delayed approving new disposal wells until rules intended to prevent additional quakes were enacted.
Fears of groundwater pollution and spills from new injection wells have prompted several public protests in Ohio. Despite that, there appears to be little the public can do to stop disposal wells from being drilled.
A 2004 state law puts the authority to approve new wells in the hands of state officials, leaving city and township zoning officials no say.
“The state holds all the cards,” said Teresa Mills, fracking coordinator for the Buckeye Forest Council.
Heidi Hetzel-Evans, an Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesman, said the agency has nearly completed its review of the Knox County well.
“We may yet approve another group [of disposal-well permits] before the end of the year,” she said.
She defended the state’s sole authority to make decisions on injection wells.
“The department certainly has the experts in the field to effectively oversee these activities,” Ms. Hetzel-Evans said.