Appalachian Basin

Environmental Groups Seek Weaker Standards for Ohio’s UIC Program

Anti-development groups joined forces yesterday to ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take control of Ohio’s Underground Injection Control program from the the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).  The groups including the Buckeye Forest Council, FrackFree Mahoning Valley and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice held protests and sent a letter to U.S. EPA requesting as much.  What these activists fail to realize, or don’t care to recognize, is that Ohio’s UIC regulations provide  broad authorities that exceed those in the federal program.  So, these activists have officially gone on record  seeking a more lax regulatory environment than what currently exists in Ohio.

According to a report from the Associated Press, the groups are seeking the change due to “recent federal indictments of a Youngstown-area businessman,” previous incidents in Youngstown linked to the same person and what they review as a “general lack of public responsiveness.”  Given these activists are seeking a more lax regulatory that will fall to a smaller workforce of inspectors its worth asking if their concerns are supported by the events they reference. So, lets take a look at the facts as they exist, not as they are imagined by some.

Brine Incident

In regards to the dumping incident, it’s worth mentioning the suspect was caught engaging in the illegal act because an ODNR employee responded swiftly to a public complaint.  This was noted in the Youngstown Vindicator on Wednesday, February 6th. Specifically, the Vindicator noted:

Both the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency received an anonymous tip late Thursday and were on the scene within three hours. They were able to obtain photographic  evidence of the dumping taking place,

That doesn’t sound like a “general lack of public responsiveness” to most folks.

In fact, federal charges were filed under the Clean Water Act within a week of the event taking place due to the swift action by investigators with ODNR and Ohio EPA.

Yes, that’s right charges were filed under the Clean Water Act.  The same legislation that the Center for Health, Environment and Justice says doesn’t apply to the oil and gas industry. In fact, on their website the group proudly touts efforts  “to end dirty and dangerous fracking; closure of the seven legal loopholes that let frackers in the oil and gas industry ignore the…Clean Water Act,”

It’s also worth noting that the regulations being protested by the activists, as outlined in SB 165, allowed ODNR to revoke the suspected company’s  permits throughout the entire state.

So, in review. ODNR officials were on scene within three hours of receiving a tip of illegal dumping taking place. Due to their swift reaction they were able to gather photos of the event taking place which ultimately helped the U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) file charges against the individual which, according to DOJ, could result in three years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine.

Meanwhile, the injection well that was linked to previous seismic activity in Youngstown – along with four others in a seven mile radius – has been shut down under indefinite suspension for the better of a year.

Successful history of Ohio’s UIC program

Since Ohio received primacy of the UIC program in 1983 over 200 million barrels of brine have been processed without a single case of groundwater contamination.  If ODNR was not doing their jobs and the standards were weak, this certainly wouldn’t be the case.  This history is matter of public record, not my opinion.

Since 1983, more than 202 million barrels (42 gallons per barrel) of brine have been injected back into depleted oil and gas reservoirs or deep geologic formations without one single instance of groundwater contamination.

– Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer, House Finance and Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Development Testimony in Support of House Bill 59

With out a single groundwater contamination case since it received primacy, it seems like ODNR’s UIC program must be doing their job at protecting Ohio’s groundwater.

But what’s more compelling than this is the fact Ohio’s UIC rules and regulations are actually more stringent than those used by the U.S. EPA. This was made clear in testimony provided to the Ohio legislature as it was considering regulatory revisions last year. The below chart shows just a few of these examples:

Comparison of Ohio’s Class II Brine Injection Regulations with USEPA Regulations
Ohio Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management United States Environmental Protection Agency
Unannounced inspections on an average of every 11-12 weeks. One inspection done per well each year by EPA consultant.
Continuous mechanical integrity monitoring or monthly mini-tests to demonstrate continuous mechanical integrity. Demonstration of mechanical integrity at least once every five years.
Injection volumes greater than 200 barrels per day require a ½-mile area of review of all other wells. Less than 200 barrels per day is a ¼-mile radius. All Class II wells shall be cased and cemented to prevent movement of fluids into or between underground sources of drinking water.
ODNR has the authority to require seismic testing and monitoring. Federal code does not specifically address seismic testing and monitoring.

These are just a few examples of how Ohio’s regulatory system out performs its federal counterparts.  Let’s face it, having unannounced inspections every 11-12 weeks instead of once a year should be something these groups applaud instead of condemn.

Now just because Ohio received its primacy in 1983 doesn’t mean that Ohio is not subjected to review and new rules coming from the U.S. EPA.  When ever new rules are placed into effect at the federal level, Ohio must follow them per Section 1425 of the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Section 1425 clearly states that states must demonstrate that their existing standards are effective in preventing endangerment of drinking water in the United States. These programs must include permitting, inspection, monitoring, and record-keeping and reporting that demonstrates the effectiveness of their requirements.

The facts are simple and ODNR’s record speaks for itself.  The agency is enforcing against the industry and 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 rules and regulations can be swiftly implemented and go far and above what’s required at the federal level.

Given all of this,  it appears that other than garnering a headline the only thing these activists accomplished 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.

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