Ohio OKs 4 disposal well permit requests

31 more applicationsin process in boom


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.