Injecting Some Facts, History into the Conversation over Seismicity
For nearly 40 years now, the state of Ohio has relied upon federally regulated underground injection wells as a safe and effective means for disposing of wastewater deep underground. Injection wells have been used in the United States since the early 1930s, and around the world dating all the way back to 300 A.D., according to EPA.
But if your only source of information on this issue is what you’ve read in the papers or seen on the news the past couple days, this is probably the first time you’re hearing this. You might even think that hydraulic fracturing is somehow to blame, notwithstanding statement after statement from federal scientists indicating it did not play, and physically could not have played, a role in the low-intensity seismic event that was felt in the Mahoning Valley over the holidays.
The two of us have a combined 65 years’ worth of experience when it comes to the siting, construction, permitting, use and policy implications of underground injection wells. Both of us were around in the ancient days of the 1980s when Ohio was first granted primacy by EPA to administer on its behalf what’s called the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program – a designation that was never given to our neighbors in Pennsylvania.
And we were also around in 1983, when state Rep. Robert E. Hagan of Lake County introduced House Bill 501, which called for a moratorium on all oil and gas activity in Ohio until the Division of Oil and Gas could certify that a sufficient number of underground injection wells existed to handle all produced brine. Thankfully, there were, and the bill was signed into law by Democratic governor Dick Celeste in 1985. Ever since, injection wells have been the law of the land in Ohio – not just a disposal option for producers, but one that is mandated under law.
Nearly 30 years removed from the passage of HB 501, Ohio today is home to nearly 180 “Class II” injection wells, which covers all liquid-based wastes associated with oil and natural gas development. Sounds like a lot – until you consider that more than 144,000 Class II wells are currently in operation in America, accepting more than two billion gallons of brine for permanent disposal each day. In 2011, Ohio accepted an estimated 1.03 million gallons a day – or about five-hundredths of one percent of the nation’s total.
Given the current media coverage of the seismic events in Youngstown, an understanding of the history and process of utilizing injection wells as a disposal method is imperative. While no clear linkage has been established connecting these injection wells with the seismic events themselves, it is important to recognize this conversation is limited to a single injection well in the Mahoning Valley, and not the centuries-old method of waste disposal itself – or the hundreds of other wells permitted and in operation all across the state.
Injection of produced fluids deep underground has proven to be safe and highly-effective means of protecting the environment, while generating much-needed revenue for the state of Ohio. Unfortunately, some of the folks speaking with the loudest voices right now in opposition to these wells appear to be among the folks with the least awareness of the decades-long history associated with the UIC program.
Of course, both of us respect the decision by Governor Kasich and ODNR to temporary halt injections at the Youngstown UIC well until more facts come to light. Our industry is committed to ensuring this matter is resolved in the proper manner, with facts – and not hyperbole – informing any decisions that will be made in the future.
What’s unfortunate is that some folks are attempting to use these events as a justification for stopping oil and natural gas development in Ohio – kind of like trying to argue that the auto industry should be shut down just because a scrap tire dump caught fire somewhere. Hopefully, though, the facts will prevail and a reasonable course of action will be pursued. Ohioans deserve nothing less, and we ask for nothing more.