Five Key Things to Know About EPA’s New Report on Ohio’s Class II Injection Wells
Last week, the U.S. EPA released a report praising the effectiveness of Ohio’s Class II Underground Injection Control (UIC) regulatory program. The 34 page report debunks anti-fracking activists who have claimed Ohio’s standards are “profoundly weak” and not protective of public health. EPA concluded that Ohio runs a “good quality program” and highlighted five noteworthy areas where the state received particularly strong remarks. These include: preventing contamination of drinking water, seismic monitoring, permitting, inspections, and resolving violations. Here’s what the report said:
1) Ohio’s Class II UIC program is complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act, Section 1425
EPA looked at Ohio’s compliance under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and concluded that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is running a “good quality program.”
Since Ohio was granted primacy over its UIC program in 1983, there has not been a single case of groundwater contamination. If ODNR was not doing its job and the standards were weak, this certainly wouldn’t be the case. This history is matter of public record, not opinion, and clearly the Groundwater Protect Council has concurred. Executive Director, Mike Paue 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.”
This shouldn’t be surprise, considering Ohio’s regulations are in fact more stringent that the federal government’s own standards. Which leads to the question: why would activists want to seek weaker standards for this program?
2) Ohio is a “leader” in addressing seismic concerns
Ohio received particularly high remarks from the EPA for its regulations to address seismic concerns. In fact, Ohio’s regulations are considered some of the most stringent in the nation, and due to subsequent updates in July 2012, they go above and beyond requirements mandated by the EPA. As EPA’s report concluded,
“Significantly, EPA finds that these changes strengthen the program that was approved.”
The report noted that new wells require continuous monitoring of injection pressure and provide ODNR with the authority to request well tests for a variety of seismic monitoring and testing. As the EPA report explains, ODNR “commonly installs seismometers before new Class II wells operations and consults with DGS and U.S. Geological Survey.” There’s simply no question, that when it comes to regulating seismic activity, Ohio has set the gold standard.
3) Activists’ claims that the permitting process does not include public input are flat wrong
A few months back, representatives from 23 known anti-fracking groups including Frackfree Mahoning Valley and the Frackfree America National Coalition, wrote a letter to the EPA Office of Environmental Justice calling for a ban on injection wells both in Ohio and nationwide. In their fact-free letter, activists had an entire section entitled, “Inadequate Public Notice and Public Participation”— a four page rant that includes such nonsense as “no public hearing has been conducted by ODNR on any injection well anywhere in Ohio.” Much to the activists’ dismay, the 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.”
In other words, the state is meeting the criteria to address public inquiries and the overall permit process.
4) ODNR is monitoring the industry through rigorous inspections
The EPA report noted that Ohio’s inspection of injection wells is an “area of strong performance.” In fact, the EPA itself cited that ODNR, “witnessed 100% initial mechanical integrity tests since 1983” and “ODNR’s high inspection presence is key component for a program that relies in part on inspections.”
Ohio ranks second in the country for number of inspections performed each year. The EPA noted that ODNR conducts spot-checks for fluid hauled in for injection, sending samples to an EPA-certified lab. This is done to determine that the fluids are appropriate for the well. In addition, Ohio also requires a shut-off switch and consistently monitors injection pressure limits. ODNR responded to the EPA’s high marks for its inspections, by stating in their press release:
“ODNR’s high inspection presence is a key component for a program that relies in part on inspections to ensure ongoing mechanical integrity of Class II wells. ODNR has strengthened its field inspections by adding staff inspectors whose time is fully dedicated to UIC inspections.”
5) Ohio’s ability to resolve violations another area of “strong performance”
Resolving violations is another “area of strong performance,” according to the EPA. The federal agency also stated that they found “examples of violations being addressed on the spot during inspections” and ODNR ensures that “violations have been addressed.” When it comes to playing by the rules, Ohio regulators have made it clear that they mean business. For example, there have been several instances where regulators have been on the scene immediately after receiving a tip from the public. They have consistently worked by a code of “see something, say something”, which has led to working with other agencies, such as the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The bottom line
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. This is important because local control measures, like the ones recently shot down by the Ohio Supreme Court, would take authority away from an agency that has received high remarks from the federal government in many areas.
Given all of this, it appears that other than garnering headlines the only thing anti-fracking activists accomplish was proving just how little they know, or care to know, about the actions of Ohio’s regulators and the regulations in place protecting Ohio’s environment.
By way of background, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) gave authority to the EPA to protect public health and underground sources of drinking water from injection wells through the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program which regulates the permitting, construction, operation and closure of injection wells. There are six categories of injection wells. Class II injection wells relate specifically to the oil and natural gas industry, as related to the disposal of fluids used by the industry. Class II injection wells are the EPA’s “preferred way to dispose of waste fluid”. The SDWA allows the EPA to give states the authority implement their own UIC program, much like another EPA program, the Emergency Planning Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) also gives the states authority to implement their own program. Ohio earned the right to be granted the authority from EPA to implement their own program in 1983, the state agency that controls both the UIC program and EPCRA requirements resides in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). The EPA still maintains a permanent role relative to approved state UIC programs and is mandated to review state programs, such as the audit recently conducted on Ohio’s program. In fact, if the state is not doing its job, the EPA has within its authority to take over the program. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits and evaluates the EPA oversight of the Class II UIC program nationwide. In fact the GAO reported its findings of the program just last year. Still, anti-fracking activists continue push misinformation regarding this highly regulated program, and in April, a group of known activists called upon the EPA to essentially shutdown Ohio’s program. In response, the EPA conducted a thorough review of Ohio’s program and found that Ohio runs “good quality program.” In short, Ohio has again earned the right to continue to implement its program in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).