Experts Sound Off In Youngstown
A panel of geologic, seismic and industry experts delivered testimony at a bipartisan legislative hearing last week at Youngstown State University. The event was organized to help the public gain a better understanding of the history of class II injection in Ohio, a process regulated by the federal EPA and directed and permitted by Ohio DNR . The specialists answered questions stemming from local concerns and misunderstandings, informing the greater-Youngstown community, and Ohio legislators, with information regarding our state’s geological makeup and the geophysics of developing our natural resources. It was a very informative night that showcased some of the unique assets that exist in Ohio above, and under ground, in regards to the development of our natural resources.
Panelists included: Dr. Robert Chase, Chair/Professor for the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Marietta College; Dr. Jeffrey Dick, Chair/Professor of Geology at Youngstown State University; Tom Stewart, Executive Vice President of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association; and David Hill, President and Consulting Geologist of David R. Hill, Inc.
Experts – Hydraulic Fracturing Not Connected to Seismic Events. No Blanket Moratorium Necessary for Class II Injection wells.
Among all the experts in attendance, two basic things were agreed upon by all. The first was that the recent seismic events in the area were not, and are not, connected to hydraulic fracturing, but rather occurred in proximity to a nearby class II underground injection well. The experts made clear that waste water is produced in an oil and gas context whether or not a well is fractured; whether or not it is vertical or horizontal; and whether or not the target formation happens to be a shale, sandstone or limestone. This fact is not only supported by those at the hearing but also by the Youngstown Vindicator in their reporting on events:
“Many Mahoning Valley residents have taken to Twitter, Facebook and have called local politicians calling for a statewide ban on fracking, mistakenly believing that the process has caused 11 Valley earthquakes this year. … The brine injections are a separate practice from fracking.” (Vindicator, Jan. 2, 2012)
The next fact agreed to by nearly all panelists, including by Dr. Bob Chase, one of the most respected academic experts on petroleum engineering issues in the country, is that a moratorium of class II UIC would be a drastic, and ill-advised action that the State of Ohio should avoid.
This sentiment was also echoed by Dr. Jeffrey Dick who indicated this in his testimony:
In his remarks, Professor Dick was also quick to mention a number of things of importance in this ongoing discussion. Mainly Ohio’s long history utilizing injection wells as a means to dispose of a number of materials, not just byproducts from oil and natural gas development :
“The state of Ohio has long established a well regulated network of class II injection wells to handle the disposal of production brine. Class II injection is the best management practice for disposal of production fluids.” (Dr. Jeffrey Dick, 1/17/12, Youngstown State University, 5:20)
Since April 1985, and the bipartisan passage of House Bill 501, the use of injection wells has been mandated in Ohio as the primary means to safely dispose of oil and gas wastes. However, the oil and gas industry isn’t the only industry that uses injection wells as a safe and well-regulated means of disposal. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA UIC website), other sectors that rely on injection wells include:
- food and agriculture
The UIC program, referenced by Dr. Dick in his testimony, and successfully in place since the 1980’s, was created using Federal regulations developed by the U.S. EPA. While, the state of Ohio (via ODNR) issues permits for Class II wells, the actual standards in place for construction, maintenance, and continuous monitoring of those wells are set by U.S. EPA and are implemented and enforced by ODNR.
The UIC program has been widely implemented throughout the United States with Roughly 144,000 Class II injection wells receiving more than 2 billion gallons of wastewater a day (EPA website, “What Is a Class II well?”). Of these, the state of Ohio is home to only 181 Class II injection wells – or 0.12 percent of the nation’s total. In 2011, Ohio accepted an estimated 1.03 million gallons of wastewater for disposal per day – or less than 0.05 percent (five hundredths of one percent) of the total nationwide volume. (ABJ, Oct. 2, 2011)
Dr. Dick also covered the lengthy, and successful, history the state has in regulating Class UIC wells without incident for over twenty years. Given his experience in the industry, and unique technical knowledge of Ohio’s geology and mineral resources, Dr. Dick clearly articulates that the seismic events surrounding this well, if connected, are likely based on particular factor.
Dr. Jeffrey Dick: “My thoughts on the issue would be not to complete wells into the Precambrian basement rocks. It’s that simple.” (Dr. Jeffrey Dick, 1/17/12, Youngstown State University, 3:08)
Gov. John Kasich and the ODNR agree with Dr. Dick as they announced recently that injection wells would be limited to a maximum depth of 8,000 feet, or the depths of Precambrian basement rocks, to avoid unintentionally encountering any fault networks.
For the benefit of our readers we provide a little background of the definition of the Precambrian rock formation or basement rock. It’s the layer of rock, or earth strata, that serves a bedrock for all layers above. The depth of this particular well was drilled more than 9,000 feet into this layer of rock. This can be troublesome because in this layer of rock there are faults and fractures that occur along, and through, the bedrock. It was Dr. Dick’s opinion that one lesson to be learned from this experience is to limit Class II UIC wells to layers above the Precambrian rock formation, whose depth varies from around 9,000 feet in northeast Ohio to approximately 12,000 feet in southeast Ohio.
The good news is that over time Class II UIC wells will become less necessary as the natural gas development industry is treating and recycling an ever growing amount of water used for their operations. In fact, in Pennsylvania some operators are now able to recycle 100% of the water used in their operations, meaning less water, and less disposal of previously used water, is needed.
While the hearing provided factual information on Ohio’s geology, as well as the characteristics of the Class II UIC program and its implementation, it also had some testy exchanges as well. One such exchange occurred when State Rep. Hagan indicated that the oil and natural gas industry is complacent in Ohio. Stating that they only embrace regulations when “They are always dragged kicking and screaming.” (4:17)
Although recent history shows a different experience as just last year industry worked pro-actively to pass Senate Bill 165, a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s natural gas regulations that received exemplary reviews from the group STRONGER for its pro-active improvements to Ohio’s natural gas regulations. To date it was the most significant change in the history of oil and gas regulations in Ohio. For background, STRONGER is composed of an independent group of academics, regulators, industry professionals and environmentalists who review state policies when requested.
Given the good work that occurred less than a year ago, EID Ohio Executive Director Tom Stewart took the opportunity to inform Representative Hagan of industries efforts on that legislation rebutting his characterization:
I took the lead on SB 165 and I take a lot of pride on how that was crafted underneath Senate Pro Tem Neihaus and under Dave Hall over at the Ohio House. Senate Bill 165, most people familiar with…policy across the United States consider SB 165 the most significant amendments to oil and gas law across the 33 producing states. Most importantly the STRONGER and state review process which came in after 165 took place backed that up and got signed off by the environmental community.” (Tom Stewart, 1/17/11, Youngstown State University,4:25)
Exceeding The Standard to Ensure Safe and Responsible Development
The hearing also provided a good venue to learn about what steps are being taken proactively by the natural gas industry to avoid any potential impacts from development.
Dr. Bob Chase: “The wells that we drill today and the companies doing the drilling are far different than the companies that were doing the drilling here in the 1980’s…We literally have about 6 levels of protection through the zones that are most critical to the people in this room that are getting drinking water from the subsurface.” (Dr. Bob Chase, 1/17/12, Youngstown State University, 6:10)
The steel-and-cement casing process that prevents any contamination of the groundwater can be hard to visualize so we have included the below image to help understand what this looks like and how extensive the protections are. For an even better understanding of what this looks like you can view this video which contains a model of a natural gas well casing.
Environmental Advantages of Horizontal Drilling Technology
Finally, the experts were able to describe some of the key differences between natural gas production utilizing horizontal development and vertical development. Dr. Chase explained that if we were to develop wells using old technology (vertical development) a well would be placed every 40 acres to capture natural gas, which in a 1,280 acre unit would equate to 36 wells. With today’s implementation of horizontal development, allowing companies to access greater amounts of acreage from a limited surface area, we can develop that same area using only one 5 acre well pad, substantially minimizing the environmental footprint.
Dr. Chase: “The savings there in terms of the environment are great. It’s the most efficient way that we can possibly drill wells.” (Dr. Bob Chase, 1/17/12, Youngstown State University, 5:10)
The following two video’s are wrap-ups and thoughts on the hearing from panelist David Hill and Tom Stewart (respectively):
We extend our gratitude to those who came out, experts and legislators alike, to gain some factual information (grounded in science and experience) on a very important issue. In moving forward with the development of Ohio’s natural resources, we look forward to more opportunities to learn about our rich history and experience with natural gas development and how our state is uniquely prepared to be successful in this effort given the unique knowledge and expertise that exists within our state.