The Earthquake and the Dangers of Injection Wells – Part 2: The Inherent Dangers of Injection Wells

By Bernhard Debatin

In Part 1, we have seen that the knowledge about the seismic makeup of Athens County is rather limited and that the recent earthquake should be a wakeup call for citizens and regulators. Indeed, data from all over the country indicate that wastewater injection can induce earthquakes, including a recent 5.7 magnitude earthquake near Prague, Oklahoma, on November 5, 2011.

Similar to the supposedly dead Starr Fault in Athens Counts, the Oklahoma earthquake originated from the Wilzetta Fault that was believed to be dead, too. The recent accumulation of earthquakes in previously seismically inactive zones have worried scientists:  “These so-called ‘earthquake swarms’ are occurring in other places where the ground is not supposed to move. There have been abrupt upticks in both the size and frequency of quakes in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, and Texas. Scientists investigating these anomalies are coming to the same conclusion: The quakes are linked to injection wells.”

Moreover, scientist have recently  found that larger earthquakes in  areas far away from the injection site may trigger earthquakes at the actual injection site, particularly if the wastewater is “driving the faults to their tipping point.” Researchers found an increase in seismicity (mostly small earthquakes) near injection well sites shortly after the occurrence of a large earthquake in other regions of the earth.

Based on the growing concerns about injection-realted earthquakes, the Athens County Commissioners sent a resolution sent to ODNR on Nov. 27, requesting a “moratorium be enacted on the current K&H2 permit application site,” combined with the request for an assessment of the appropriateness of locating injection wells close to an active earthquake zone and for the installation of seismic monitoring equipment as a precondition for a permit.

LetterACCseismic

Excerpt from the County Commissioners’ letter to ODNR

In the meantime, Ohio University geologist Dr. Elizabeth Gierlowski-Kordesch wrote a letter to the Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) on Dec. 5, 2013, stating that ODNR has so far neither required nor conducted any seismic research of the K&H2 injection well site:

There is no conclusive proof that our most recent earthquake was “natural”; there are no seismic or hydrologic data concerning the flow of the injected saltwater from the nearby Hocking College wells toward the earthquake epicenter. A true “seismic” study would involve mapping of inactive faults as well as aquifers in the subsurface around ANY proposed injection well. This would entail good science that should be done to protect the health of Ohio citizens. ODNR failed to protect our citizens with the permitting of the Youngstown wells without requiring the needed seismic data.

Injection Wells Are Inherently Dangerous

But even without seismic activity, the practice of injecting high volumes of polluted water into underground wells is potentially dangerous and irresponsible. It is a known and scientifically established fact that the cement and steel casings of fracking and injection wells will fail over time.

Casings1Indeed, the question is not if, but only how soon they will  fail. In other words, even without seismic activity, there is a risk, increasing over time, that aquifers will be polluted by toxic wastewater. An extensive June 2012 report in the investigative journal ProPublica cites former EPA’s underground injection program engineer Mario Salazar, “in 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted.”

In his 2012 article “Will Ohio Continue To Be a Regional Dumping Ground for Fracking Wastewater?,” Nikolas Kusnetz states that Ohio has close to 200 injection wells, whereas Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and New York have only a handful. More than half of the fracking wastewater deposited into Ohio injection wells comes from other States, mostly Pennsylvania and West Virginia, due to Ohio’s lax regulations and cheap rates.

Athens County has already six active injections wells (see table below). The recent application for the K&H2 injection well would create, if approved, the largest fracking wastewater disposal site in Ohio with a planned volume of 63 million gallons of toxic liquids per year and “its annual volume would equal 10% of all waste injected in Ohio in 2012” (ACFAN 2013, p. 4).

Injection Wells in Athens County
(click on Longitude/Latitude to go to well location on map)
Well
Name
Township Well
Owner
Latitude / Longitude
GINSBURG
HAZEL
Alexander Carper Well Service,
Millard E. Carper, 30745 State Route 7, Marietta, OH 45750, (740) 374-2567
39.23348
-82.13858
MILLER
CARLESS
Canaan

Petro Quest Inc,
C. & P.J. Gerig, 3 West Stimson Ave., Athens,
OH 45701, (740) 593-3800
39.30209
-81.95367
EARL
AKERS {SWIW#7}
Lee Lee Oil & Gas Co,
326 Spirea Drive, Dayton, OH 45419, (937) 223-8891
39.24967
-82.23657
HAHN
PAUL
Rome Stonebridge Operating Co, 1635 Warren Chapel Rd, Fleming, OH 45729, (740) 373-6134 39.29995, -81.89534
FROST
M
(SWIW #9)
Rome D T Atha Inc, David T. Atha, 29030 Rockstull Rd, Sugar Grove, OH 43155, (740) 746-8567 39.29150
-81.83431
K&H
PARTNERS
LLC
(SWIW #8)
Troy K&H Partners LLC, Jeff Harper, P.O. Box 1366, Parkersburg, WV 26102, (304) 863-8867 39.22607
-81.76140
K&H (2) PARTNERS LLC Troy
(Permit
Pending)
K&H Partners LLC, Jeff Harper, P.O. Box 1366, Parkersburg, WV 26102, (304) 863-8867 39.23487
-81.75710

The large amounts of injected fluids are not, as often claimed by the oil and gas industry, simply “brine.” In reality, the wastewater contains carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene and other flammable hydrocarbons, as well as varying and unmonitored quantities of radioactive substances. The same wastewater, coming from any other industry, would be considered hazardous waste and would need to be disposed as hazardous waste. Only the oil and gas industry receives special treatment, due to the so-called Halliburton Loophole, and is allowed to dump their toxic wastewater into insufficiently monitored and structurally unsafe class II injection wells.

The remains of a tanker truck after an explosion ripped through an injection well site in a pasture outside of Rosharon, Texas, on Jan. 13, 2003, killing three workers. The fire occurred as two tanker trucks, including the one above, were unloading thousands of gallons of drilling wastewater. (Photo courtesy of the Chemical Safety Board)

The remains of a tanker truck after an explosion ripped through an injection well site in a pasture outside of Rosharon, Texas, on Jan. 13, 2003, killing three workers. The fire occurred as two tanker trucks, including the one above, were unloading thousands of gallons of drilling wastewater. (Photo: ProPubiica/ Chemical Safety Board)

As shown in a 2012 ProPublica report, the euphemistically called “brine” or “saltwater” from fracking is sometimes so concentrated and full of volatile chemicals that the vapors can cause explosions, as in the case of the 2003 explosion at an injection well in Rosharon, TX, where two workers were killed immediately and another one died later from his injuries.

The Hazel Ginsburg Well:
A Long History of Failures and Violations

A glance at the local Hazel Ginsburg well on Ladd Ridge Road in Alexander Township near Albany reveals that the fluids in the storage pit do not resemble anything like saltwater. Instead, you see a brownish sludge with an oily film. While there is certainly a high concentration of salt in fracking waste fluids, calling it saltwater is  like calling blood saltwater, simply based on the fact that blood contains salt and water while ignoring the other (rather relevant) components of blood.

Ginsburg1

The storage pit of the Hazel Ginsburg well near Albany, OH.
Note the makeshift shack behind the pit.

The Hazel Ginsburgwell alone has a 25-year long history of violations, failures, shut down notices, and incomplete inspection reports. On October 15, the three Athens County Commissioners sent a joint resolution to ODNR, requesting “to immediately and permanently shut down operations of the Ginsburg well.” The letter provides an alarming list of violations and concerns, including:

Ginsburg3_well

The Ginsburg well injection pipe.
Note the makeshift tape on the grey pipe leading to the storage pit.

– > overflows and leaks from           the storage pit;
-> workers with no protection being exposed to toxic fumes;
-> people on the public road experiencing headaches, nausea, and burning eyes within a short period of time;
-> filters containing residues from the radioactive and chemical waste being dumped in the regular trash.

Copies of a public record request for ODNR documents regarding these failures and violations , with over 60 individual letters, notices, and reports showing the history of the the Ginsburg well can be found at http://appalachiaresist.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/ginsburg-documents.pdf

Ginsburg4_overall

Overview of the Ginsburg well facility.

Disclaimer:
All information on this page was derived from publicly available documents.

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