A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BATTLE FOR FRACK-WASTE TESTING IN OHIO
- For a long time, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources flat-out refused to test the frack waste being trucked into Ohio from out of state, and dumped into Class II injection wells here.
All along, The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has had the authority to order testing of frack waste “brine” before it is injected (under section 1509.06 of the Ohio Revised Code.) Rick Simmers, ODNR’s Oil & Gas Division Chief, and other ODNR officials received numerous written and oral requests from Ohio residents to order testing of brine, dating back to as early as January 3, 2012. In an email dated February 17, 2012, ODNR Records Coordinator Beth Wilson admitted that ODNR had “not completed any sampling on the out-of-district fluids injected to date.” In response to a public records request filed in June asking ODNR to release all testing relevant to fracking brine, ODNR Geologist Tom Tomastik provided no test results taken after 1989, nearly two decades before Ohio began to accept massive quantities of waste from high volume hydraulic fracturing operations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and as far away as Texas.
- Finally, a SE Ohio landowner decided to engage in a principled act of direct action, demanding that the ODNR test the brine.
On June 26th 2012, Madeline ffitch was arrested at the Ginsburg Class II frack-waste injection well in Alexander Township after an act of civil disobedience. As of June 26th, the ODNR had still never tested the “brine”. (see other sections of website for more details of this action).
- When ODNR continued to ignore citizen concerns, an anonymous private citizen took a sample from the Ginsburg Well and had it tested. This was the FIRST BRINE TEST EVER DONE IN OHIO.
On July 2nd 2012, the results of the sample taken from the Ginsburg Well by an anonymous private citizen were made public. These results, analyzed by biologist Ben Stout, and advocated for by Representative Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) showed that the frack-waste, which is injected near farms, homes, and drinking water sources, constitutes hazardous waste, and contains high volumes of radioactivity.
The lab results indicate high levels of alpha particles, arsenic, barium, and toluene, among other contaminants, and are cause for the brine to be classified as “hazardous,” according to Stout, professor of biology at Wheeling Jesuit University who interpreted the results. Professor Stout labeled the results as “eerily similar” to brine samples taken by West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection. He describes heavy metals found in the sample as “grossly above standard,” citing skyrocketing arsenic and barium levels that exceed the primary standard for acceptable drinking water concentrations by 370 and 145 times, respectively.
Alpha particles indicate elevated levels of radioactivity and have been linked to lung cancer. High levels of barium are associated with organ failure, and both toluene and arsenic are highly carcinogenic.
- Within days after the anonymous well test results were made public, The ODNR FINALLY conducted their own test of the frack waste.
Only AFTER ffitch’s arrest, and AFTER the damning anonymous test results were made public, did the Ohio Department of Natural Resources finally test the “brine” from the Ginsburg Well, the first such test they had done in Ohio. The ODNR has said that these test results show “no problems”, explaining that frack-waste is not subject to safety parameter testing until it has already contaminated drinking water. The ODNR maintains that Ohio injection wells are the proper place for toxic-frack waste to be dumped. Unfortunately, these injection wells are not rated for hazardous waste. A partial review of ODNR inspection records on 116 injection wells from 2000-2011 reveals a legacy of brine spillage in at least twelve Ohio counties. In many cases, no remediation has occurred. Well casings have an abysmal failure rating. According to research by Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, 6% of well casing fail in the first five years, 50 % in the first thirty years, and after that, it just gets worse. Athens County is number one in the state for failed well inspections, and Meigs County is number four in the state.
Ohio citizens deserve independent, third party testing of frack-waste and the risks associated with it, rather than testing done by a state agency that profits from every barrel of frack waste that is being trucked into our state.
- On September 3rd 2012, the Columbus Dispatch reported on its front page that the U.S Geological Survey’s findings support the anonymous well sample results. The study confirms that the millions of barrels of frack-waste being trucked into Ohio are indeed dangerously radioactive.
This article (linked to in full, below) describes a 2011 study compiled by the U.S Geological survey, relying on samples collected by Pennsylvania officals, of frack-waste from the Marcellus Shale, the same type of waste being trucked into Ohio from Pennsylvania. The study shows radium levels 3,609 times more radioactive than federal drinking water limits, and 300 times higher than Nuclear Regulatory Commission industrial limits.
Many fracking proponents claim that fracking and the waste associated with it is no more dangerous than the conventional vertical oil and gas drilling that’s been around for decades. In light of this, it is important to note that the study found frack-waste radium levels three times higher than waste from conventional oil and gas wells.
Though independent experts agree that it is imperative to test and regulate the waste right here in Ohio, the dispatch article quotes the Ohio Department of Health’s radiation-protection chief as saying, “Injection wells are almost the perfect solution for that disposal issue.” Snee goes on to say that there’s no need for the state to test Utica brine.
Please look at the following articles about injection wells and frack-waste: