Yves here. A predictable outcome of fracking, which is contamination of aquifers, may be happening on a big enough scale to get out of the so-called progressive media into the mainstream. I recall years ago photos of dirty yellow and brown water coming out of taps in parts of Pennsylvania, and even some being able to get ignition when they held a lighter near the water stream, presumably due to high methane concentrations.
I would like to know where in “southern Ohio” the water problems are. Cobb links to an article in Athens County Independent from earlier in the month which also came up in a quick search. lists Athens and Washington counties in southern Ohio as afflicted areas:
Four fracking waste injection wells in Athens County have temporarily suspended operations by order of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which says the wells present an “imminent danger” to health and the environment.
On May 1, ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management ordered the suspension of a Class II injection well in Rome Township on grounds that its operator, Reliable Enterprises LLC, violated an Ohio Administrative Code section that bars operators from contaminating or polluting surface land and surface or subsurface water. In late June, three wells in Torch operated by K&H Partners were suspended on the same grounds.
Applications for new Class II injection wells from both Reliable Enterprises and K&H were denied because of the suspensions. K&H’s application for a fourth well at its $43 million facility in Torch generated controversy when it was proposed in 2018.
Class II wells are used to contain toxic waste from oil and gas production thousands of feet underground. The wells are intended to isolate the waste water, known as brine, from groundwater.
However, the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management found that waste fluid injected into the three K&H wells had spread at least 1.5 miles underground and was rising to the surface through oil and gas production wells in Athens and Washington counties.
Note that a May article, Ohio Environmentalists, Oil Companies Battle State Over Dumping of Fracking Wastewater, describes fracking water contamination in a different Ohio county, Coshocton County.
By Kurt Cobb, a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has also appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Resilience, Le Monde Diplomatique, TalkMarkets, Investing.com, Business Insider and many other places. He is the author of an oil-themed novel entitled Prelude and has a widely followed blog called Resource Insights. He is currently a fellow of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions. Originally published at OilPrice
- Southern Ohio discovers toxic fracking wastewater migrating from deep injection wells, contaminating local groundwater.
- Fragmented state-level regulations and undisclosed fracking fluid compositions hinder effective monitoring and risk assessment.
- Calls grow for stricter regulations and transparency in fracking practices to protect public health and drinking water supplies.
Eleven years ago, I wrote about the how millions of holes drilled deep into American soil were already destined to pollute groundwater across the United States, making many areas uninhabitable to humans who rely on such water. I warned that the so-called shale oil and gas boom would make this problem dramatically worse.
Now that problem has reached the news pages of southern Ohio, and this will likely just be the beginning of coverage of fracking-related damage to the country’s groundwater supplies. (There has been much coverage of studies that suggest such harm is inevitable and likely happening from fracking. But, we are now shifting into the stage where the actual harm will start to be discovered—almost certainly too late to prevent contamination in many cases.)
The main culprit (for now) is not the oil and gas wells themselves, but the injection wells used to dispose of huge volumes of water laced with toxic chemicals that have been injected into wells under great pressure to fracture underground rocks containing oil and natural gas in shale deposits. A lot of that water comes back to the surface and so must be disposed of. One of the easiest ways to do that is to pump it deep underground—many thousands of feet down—where it can supposedly be safely deposited away from the surface and far below drinking water aquifers used by us humans.
The trouble is—as I pointed out in my piece 11 years ago—the injected wastewater doesn’t necessarily stay put. And, that’s the problem in southern Ohio. In the Ohio case, “the [Ohio] Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management found that waste fluid injected into the three K&H [waste injection] wells had spread at least 1.5 miles underground and was rising to the surface through oil and gas production wells in Athens and Washington counties.”
This is why a former EPA scientist referenced in my 2012 piece believes that groundwater practically every there is any kind of drilling will become contaminated within the next 100 years as toxic fluids migrate from working and abandoned oil and gas wells and wastewater injection wells into fresh drinking water aquifers.
Part of the problem is the piecemeal regulation of oil and gas operations and wastewater injection. States do the regulation and currently face large and powerful oil and gas companies and the companies that haul their toxic fracking wastewater away. The states have a difficult time monitoring what these companies are dumping, not least of all because the composition of the fluids used to fracture shale oil and gas deposits is considered a trade secret. States cannot easily pry open the files of these companies to find out exactly what is in these fluids.
The fact that companies which use hazardous chemicals that can easily get into the drinking water supply are not obliged to divulge publicly the formulas for the mixtures they inject underground ought to shock the public. But unless Congress fixes some or all of the exemptions from federal disclosure laws enjoyed by the oil and gas industry, the public will continue to be in the dark about the makeup of the waste fluids from oil and gas drilling, especially in shale oil and gas fields, and associated injection of toxic fluids deep into the Earth.
Without crucial information about contaminants which threaten public drinking water supplies, regulators and the public will be shadow-boxing their oil and gas industry foes. My guess is that if companies were obliged to release their fracking formulas and be subject to analysis of the actual fracking fluids and every community was by law informed of this information and its implications for public health, regulation of these practices would be far stricter and some current practices, such as injection of wastes underground, would be banned.