After Clean Water Test, Ohio University Professor Pushes Debunked Activists Talking Points
Late last month, the Ohio University Voinovich School reported at a November 24th meeting with Athens county officials that water well testing results proved that there was no ground water contamination from injection wells, nor any signs of oil and gas influence.
Despite these facts, five days later, Ohio University journalism professor, Dr. Bernhard Debatin, penned a letter to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in protest of a proposed permit, citing that injection wells are “very likely to cause long-term harm to our community’s air, water, public health, and property values.”
Debatin’s six page letter to ODNR includes a barrage of debunked activist talking points. Let’s take a look at some of the claims made by the professor, followed by the facts:
Claim #1: “Polluted fracking waste fluids may migrate laterally and upwards into underground aquifers.” The professor also alleges that injection wells are a “gross violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).”
FACT: As stated previously, there has not been one single case of groundwater contamination from injection wells. This history is a matter of public record, and the Groundwater Protection Council has concurred. As GWPC Executive Director, Mike Paque, has stated:
“Ohio is at the forefront of regulating Class II injection wells and is continuously advancing regulations of the UIC program. ODNR’s ongoing efforts provide the necessary protections to help ensure that Ohio’s underground drinking water resources are safe.”
In Athens 10 recent water samples taken around an injection well site produced results that showed no oil and gas influence to the groundwater. As Jennifer Bowman, environmental project manager, Ohio University Voinovich School explained to county officials,
“[T]ests for volatile organic compounds — which, if present, might indicate oil and gas influence — came back as below detection levels.” (emphasis added)
The classification of Underground Injection Control (UIC) parameters are set by the U.S. EPA. The classifications have been in place since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974. Currently there are approximately 150,000, Class II UIC wells in the United States and they are considered the preferred and environmentally safe method for disposal of oilfield fluid wastes. In fact, the EPA’s own website states, “Injection proved to be safe and inexpensive.”
Ohio gained primacy over its UIC program from the U.S. EPA in 1983 and, since the passage of HB 501 in 1985, Class II wells are a method of disposal for brine and produced waters in Ohio. Take a look at this video, which describes in detail the construction of a Class II injection well:
“8,902 feet deep is the total depth. We have three layers of casing, surrounded by three layers of cement. So if there was to be an issue here, the water would literally have to break through 4 layers of steel and 3 layers of cement to contaminate the fresh water.” David, Hill, Independent Oil and Gas Producer in Ohio.
Debatin seems not to understand the construction of a Class II injection well, or a water well, or the safeguards that are put in place for both. In addition to protections in place through the layers of casing and cement required for an injection well, ground water is also protected through the proper construction of a water well.
In Ohio, and particularly in the rural areas of the state where the majority of oil and gas activity is occurring, private water wells provide the primary source of water for many people, especially those who live outside of an area with municipal water. Water wells must have a minimum of 25 feet of casing to keep ground water secure and to prevent ground water contamination. Ohio’s water well construction rules outline specific instructions, which require contractors to adapt to various geological conditions. This is important because to claim that wastewater can migrate laterally and upwards into aquifers, would assume that there are no protections in place for an injection well or a water well.
Claim #2: As it relates to ground water contamination, the journalism professor also cites a “lack of aquifer mapping.”
FACT: The professor’s claim that there is a “lack of aquifer mapping” also shows a serious lack of understanding as to how water wells are regulated and mapped in Ohio. In reality, it is very easy for the public to access information on water wells and aquifers, as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources requires water well logs to be submitted by contractors. That information is available online here.
Claim #3: “Injection wells are often poorly regulated…the way injection wells are permitted and operated in Ohio is extremely risky and also against Ohio law and federal law.”
FACT: This year alone, a 45 page report was issued by the U.S. EPA to debunk this entire premise. The EPA has conducted a full-scale audit of Ohio’s UIC program and, much to the activists’ dismay, EPA gave the state high marks for its management of the program. EPA found that “the current process is consistent with the approved primacy program description.” EPA went on to note:
“EPA is aware that some nongovernmental organizations and citizens in Ohio are concerned that public hearings are not held on request, that informational meetings are held in lieu of hearings, or that ODNR determines that comments received on specific wells did not require permit changes or public hearings. However, these ODNR decisions are within the bounds of the EPA-approved program.”
ODNR’s record speaks for itself and Ohio is continuously looking at new rules and regulations to safeguard Ohio’s environment. This is something we have seen with SB 165 in 2010, SB 315 in 2012, and HB 59 in 2013. Having state primacy means updates to rules and regulations can be swiftly implemented and go far and above what’s required at the federal level. Ohio’s regulations are in fact more stringent than the federal government’s own standards.
Claim #4: Injection wells have “shown skyrocketing earthquake incidents”
FACT: Fewer than one percent of wastewater injection wells across the United States have been potentially linked to induced seismicity, according to a report by Energy In Depth. The report, entitled “Injection Wells and Earthquakes: Quantifying the Risk,” consults data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and several peer-reviewed studies to examine the number of injection wells that have been suspected as causing earthquakes, compared against the total number of operating injection wells.
Claim #5: “Property Values will decrease with the crumbling infrastructure…due to the transportation, storage, and injection of contaminated fracking fluids.”
FACT: Since oil and gas development from shale has started in Ohio, property values have in fact increased. Athens, Ohio has not been excluded from that discussion. In fact in the last 5 years the median home value in Athens has jumped 45 percent from $111,300 to $161,700. While there has not been any shale exploration and production occurring in Athens, there have been oil and gas development activities, such as Class II injection wells, which are an essential component to the overall oil and gas development occurring in the state.
Of course this is not the first time, fearmongering of property values have been used as part of the discussion to prohibit oil and gas development, yet time and time again, that speculation is not upheld with fact.
While Dr. Debatin may have his own personal convictions over Class II injection wells, the truth is, his protest against this pending injection well site simply does not withstand scrutiny. It should not even be considered a valid objection to the permit in question, as the merits of the protest are simply without substance. Essentially what we have here is a personal opinion by a professor of journalism, not substantiated by fact or science, who seems to be throwing spaghetti to the wall to see if anything sticks.