Athens County Commissioners hold standing-room-only public injection well meeting

Athens County Commissioners hold standing-room-only public injection well meeting  

Athens, Nov. 20, 2013 — It was standing-room-only as over 160 people filled the Athens Community Center Tuesday night as the Athens County Commissioners took testimony from citizens about an oil and gas waste injection well, K&H Partners #2, proposed for eastern Athens County. If approved, this permit would make the injection well complex the largest in the state.

The commissioners held the public meeting after their request, like those of over 100 Athens County residents­­, for a public hearing by Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) was ignored.[1] ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas has never held a Public Hearing.

Commissioner Eliason mentioned that after repeated letters to ODNR with no response, he had, in the last 24 hours, gotten two responses. Director James Zehringer wrote, “No hearing will be held on the K&H Partners permit application because no new scientific information or evidence has been identified to indicate that this proposed well is a threat to public health or safety.”

Eliason said the meeting was “important to give people an appropriate way to express their concerns. We are doing to use today’s testimony to put pressure on the legislature to mandate the requirement for public input. Injection wells should be under local control, not forced on the people.”

Dozens of people provided two hours of testimony, ranging from the high levels of radioactivity in injected oilfield waste to concerns over recent Ohio earthquakes linked to waste injection. Many speakers called for Ohio injection well permitting to be suspended until a full audit of Ohio’s Injection Well Program is done by US EPA. USEPA Region 5 has postponed its scheduled audit to evaluate testimony being received from Ohioans, according to a recipient of a recent phone call from USEPA.

Many addressed degradation of cement and steel casings documented as inevitable in industry literature, especially under high pressure and corrosive conditions. She concluded, “There is no information here about mapping of the aquifers in the area, key information needed to protect drinking water. Where is the science?” Greg Howard, who has worked in the HAZMAT field, bemoaned the low standards used by the American Petroleum Institute. (Ohio requires even lower standards.) “They can use pipe that hasn’t been hydro tested. The engineering just isn’t right.”

Many speakers, including David Gedeon, representing Athens Conservancy, addressed the more stringent rules that would be in place if Ohio did not have primacy, or authority, for managing the injection well program. Susan Righi, M.D., cited USEPA rules that would require complete disclosure and EPA approval of all ingredients in the injectate. Speakers pointed to the near absence of injection wells in states without primacy, which follow USEPA regulations. Speakers blamed Ohio’s lax rules and low taxes for vast quantities of waste coming into Ohio. 53% of over 14 million barrels of waste injected in Ohio in 2012 came from out-of-state.

Speakers addressed the legal responsibility of US EPA to ensure that Ohio protects drinking water. They called on USEPA to revoke Ohio’s primacy based on ODNR’s inability to protect drinking water as requested in a March 14, 2013 petition by Teresa Mills on behalf of Ohio residents.

Attorney Anne Rubin addressed other federal laws being violated by ODNR management. She pointed out that most of the injection wells in the state are near impoverished communities: “This is one result of Ohio’s permitting process. Ohio’s poorest residents should not have their health put at risk in this manner,” according to the federal environmental justice mandate issued by Bill Clinton in 1994.

Others called for passage of Ohio HB 148 and SB 178, legislation that has been introduced into the Ohio House and Senate that would ban Class 2 injection wells.

Athens County resident and former County Commissioner Roxanne Groff summed up the meeting, “This meeting is government at it best, and the underground injection program in the state of Ohio is government at its absolute worst.”

Athens County Fracking Action Network, which requested the public meeting, is part of a statewide network of concerned Ohioans sending testimony to USEPA in an effort to get USEPA to revoke Ohio’s primacy over injection wells and seeking an Ohio legislative ban on Class II injection wells. Visit ACFAN’s injection well page for more citizen testimony.

[1] Ohio Revised Code says that if the Chief of ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas considers any objection raised during the public comment period to be relevant and substantive, a hearing is be called within thirty days of receipt of the objection (ORC 1501:9-3-06). The deadline for comments was mid-September. No one had heard from the Chief of ODNR as of Monday.