Frack Waste Testing in Ohio
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has the authority to order testing of frack waste before it is injected into wells (section 1509.06 of the Ohio Revised Code). However, for more than six months following citizen requests for such testing, ODNR took no action.
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 frack waste, 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 (fears about the toxicity of frack waste mean that frack waste cannot be disposed of in these states. Ohio has no such law protecting its citizens).
In June of 2012, an anonymous Ohioan collected a sample of frack waste from an Athens County injection well and sent it to an independent lab for testing. This was the first frack waste test ever done in Ohio. The results from this test were made public on July 2, 2012. Biologist Ben Stout, a professor at Wheeling Jesuit University, analyzed the results. The test showed that the frack waste was radioactive and highly toxic, containing high levels of alpha particles, arsenic, barium, and toluene (among other chemicals).
Prof. Stout said that the results were cause for the frack waste to be classified as hazardous. He added that the results were “eerily similar” to frack waste samples taken by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Heavy metals in the sample were “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.
Only after these results were announced did the ODNR conduct its own test of frack waste. 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. 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 frack waste spills 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 (Cornell University), 6% of well casings 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 3, 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 describes a 2011 study compiled by the U.S Geological Survey, relying on samples collected by Pennsylvania officials, 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, Michael Snee, saying, “Injection wells are almost the perfect solution for that disposal issue.” Mr. Snee goes on to say that there’s no need for the state to test Utica brine.
- ProPublica article on the risks of injection wells
- Summary of 2011 USGS survey of radioactivity in frack waste trucked to Ohio