Appalachian Basin

NRDC Out of Its Depth on Ohio Injection Wells

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has its sights set on Ohio, but it continues to drop the ball when it comes to demonstrating even a passing knowledge of Ohio’s oil and gas regulatory system.  THe latest example: NRDC’s recent blog post entitled “New Ohio Fracking Waste Underground Injection Rules Still Second Class,” which features commentary from an NRDC lawyer that completely misses the mark with respect to the regulations that govern wastewater disposal and management across our state.

While calling Ohio’s Class II well injection program “second class” might make for a good quip, it shows the author has very little understanding of UIC regulations and therefore simply can’t comprehend what some of the most stringent regulations in the nation look like.

Before digging into NRDC’s claim some simple background is needed.  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 172,068 Class II UIC wells in the United States and they are considered the preferred and environmentally safe method for disposal of oilfield fluid wastes. Ohio gained primacy of its UIC program from the U.S. EPA in 1983 and since the passage of HB 501 in 1985, Class II wells are the only method of disposal for brine and produced waters.

In gaining this primacy, Ohio has made its rules more stringent then those set by the federal government. For example, federal regulations require one well inspection each year and a demonstration of mechanical integrity at least once every five years.

Ohio on the other hand has unannounced inspections every 11–12 weeks and continuous mechanical integrity monitoring or monthly mini-tests to demonstrate continuous mechanical integrity to ensure proper well functionality. In addition,  all new wells in Ohio are required to be continuously monitored and will include an automatic shut-off device set to terminate operations if the permitted maximum allowable surface injection pressure is exceeded.

That means that injection wells in Ohio exceed U.S. EPA standards, are inspected at least four times a year, are monitored 24 hours a day, and can be shut off by operators, or regulators, at a moments notice.  To most objective observers none of this sound “second class.”

These regulations make certain that disposal wells are functioning properly at all times and the continuous monitoring will give the operator and the state able warning to correct any issues that could occur.

Of course, Ohio’s regulations go above and beyond inspection and monitoring.  At a recent disposal well visit, David Hill described the environmental protections required by regulations to ensure groundwater is protected from well operations.

“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

Beyond inspections, monitoring and environmental safeguards new regulations are also in place to address seismic concerns   which the industry and state takes very seriously.  As a result of regulatory changes agreed to by all parties, ODNR can require a variety of tests to determine if faults exists in an area where a disposal well is planned.

These tests include:

  • Pressure fall-off testing to ensure tight seals in the reservoir and casing
  • Geological investigation of potential faulting within the immediate vicinity of the proposed injection well location, which may include seismic surveys or other methods determined by the chief which will give not only the operator
  • Monitoring seismic activity
  • Radioactive tracer or spinner survey
  • Gamma ray, compensated density-neutron, and resistivity geophysical logging suite on all newly drilled injection wells to determine slight fractures in unknown geological regions of the state

These tests are not required for all new wells being brought online, as the NRDC requests, for very simple reasons.  Through out various geologic studies performed by the Ohio Geological Survey, as well as multiple universities over the years, there are many areas of the state where ODNR has a very good knowledge of the geology making this request unnecessary.

Again the NRDC tries to instill fear of the unknown in order to gain support on an incredibly technical subject.  It wants to change the rules of the program and have Ohio deem all Class II wells as Class I wells which is something even the U.S. EPA has determined to be unnecessary.

An objective review clearly shows Ohio’s UIC program has the necessary tools and safeguards in place for that make its Class II UIC regulations among the best in the nation.  However, it seems the author of this post is a bit to far removed from the Buckeye State to understand the complexity of these regulations, and how they actually work.  I suppose he could be forgiven, after all its doubtful he sees many Class II UIC wells from his posh office in Chicago.

Following an earlier post which also misrepresents Ohio’s regulations it is clear that NRDC either has no idea what they are talking about or is choosing to willfully ignore the pragmatic, bi-partisan, regulatory updates that have been undertaken in the Buckeye State in recent years.  Maybe jobs and affordable energy don’t matter to NRDC or perhaps they are so devout in their campaign against natural gas that they have blinded themselves to any objectivity on the issue.

Whatever the issue, it says quite a bit that their positions are miles apart from groups actually engaged in a constructive conversation on regulations governing oil and natural gas development.  One example, STRONGER, a group supported by U.S. EPA that reviews regulations for their environmental strength and success rate, found Ohio’s regulations to be well managed and meeting their objectives.  Those objectives include, of course, the protection of Ohio’s land, air, and water.

Given this, perhaps the Natural Resources Defense Council should change their name to the No Resources Developed Council.  It seems this would more closely reflect their actual mission.  Meanwhile those of us in Ohio will continue to ensure that oil and natural gas development in the Buckeye State is providing thousands of jobs, saving Ohio consumers billions and is being held to nation leading regulatory standards.

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