A Story of Lies and Willful Ignorance
By Bernhard Debatin
Though K&H claims the new injection well will take on average 5,000 barrels per day, it is permitted to receive up to 12,000 barrels per day (378,000 gallons), which would more than double the overall capacity of the K&H facility. The Columbus Dispatch states that the addition of the new well “would increase Athens County’s annual total by as many as 4.4 million barrels, putting Athens well above Coshocton County, where about 3.5 million barrels of fracking wastewater were injected last year, leading the state.” (Dispatch, April 5, 2015)
The approval, issued on March 23, was granted without a public hearing and despite 242 detailed letters of concern, many of which specifically requested a public hearing. However, ODNR categorically declined holding a hearing, supposedly because all questions were answered on their website, although the law does nowhere say that it is enough to merely put some answers on a website in lieu of a public hearing. As a reminder, it is a basic democratic right of American citizens to request and hold public hearings in controversial matters of public interest.
The Dispatch also wrote that ODNR Geologist Bob Worstall deemed “the majority of (the letters) just opposed to the idea in general.” The Athens News quoted ODNR spokesperson Eric Heis saying that “no public hearing will be held, as no public comment objections were new or unaddressed in the initial permit review process” and that “the chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management has reviewed all of the public comments and answered all questions on the website.” (my emphasis)
This is, in plain English, simply a lie. Many of the letters, some of which are documented on the ACFAN page, provided very specific comments and outlined detailed and new objections against the planned K&H 3 well. The complete disregard of these arguments by ODNR officials is also expressed by the fact that the website that supposedly addresses all questions contains only the responses to the concerns from the previous (2012) K&H 2 permit process, under the telling tab Athens Open House 11/2012 and the tab K&H Partners Application. The latter one does address some specific questions; however, most answers are rather general or simply cite the law rather than giving specific information. It does not appear that any of the new comments were considered and answered (mine were certainly not!). A good example for the lack of specifics is answer number 41:
Given that we now have a solid record of injection-induced earthquakes all over the country, including Ohio (Youngstown!), this general and categorical answer is breathtakingly ignorant. It remains ODNR’s secret how they made this determination. Contrary to this unconcerned assurance, the USGS stated recently: “Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.” (USGS Press release of 2/19/2015)
Lies and Willful Ignorance
In my own, four-page-long letter to ODNR, dated January 5, 2015, I raised six main areas of concern (see also the last SD-FRAC entry Why the New K&H 3 Injection Well is Wrong). In each of these areas, I specified carefully how the new well would contribute to the respective concern. Since all areas presented new aspects and objections, it can only mean that ODNR must have willfully ignored them.
In the first area of concern, Injection volume and fluid migration risk, I specifically pointed out that the proximity of the existing K&H 2 well to the new K&H 3 (only 800 yards) necessitates an exploration of potential interactions between the two wells, as it is unclear if and how waste injected into these adjacent wells “will compete for space, which would create additional pressure.” The concern is that “wastewater migrates laterally and upwards into aquifers” or that wastewater might be “more likely to migrate through cracks in the casing and tubing.” It is hard to fathom how this concern can be called “not new.” Coincidentally, this concern is also in no way addressed on the ODNR website.
In the second area of concern, Intolerable normal operation risks, I raised the issue that the K&H 3 application “does not provide any specific data about the actual depth and thickness of the (supposedly) confining formations” and that a public record request concerning the previous (K&H 2) permit revealed that “no specific geological data exist, which implies that the decisions are made blindly at the desk without an actual site-specific geological evaluation of the strata.” Again, these are concerns specific to the K&H 3 permission that had not and could not have been raised before.
The third area of concern, Increased risk of earthquakes, referred to the results of an ODNR analysis of the December 2o11 earthquakes in Youngstown. Even the preliminary ODNR report about the earthquake was only available months after the comments and the hearing for the K&H 2 permit application. In other words, these concerns are based on new information that was not yet available at the time of the previous (K&H 2) permit process. Why is ODNR not providing any answers to this issue? The “answers” published on the ODNR website (#41-43) are very generic and do not address the actual concerns. The example quoted above (“The ODNR has determined that injection proposed by this permit application will not induce seismic activity”) provides no details as to how this was determined. The public is apparently supposed to simply believe whatever ODNR declares.
Area four, History of incidents and location suitability, refers to “a number of concerning failures, malfunctions, and other incidents that indicate that the facility is not carefully operated and that the formation in which the waste is injected (“Ohio Shale”) is not suitable for this kind of high-volume wastewater injections.” These arguments could not have been made before, as they are based on incidents reports from both K&H 1 and K&H 2. It is simply incomprehensible how ODNR can claim the letters presented nothing new.
The fifth area of concern, Water and air monitoring, protests explicitly the fact that the application for K&H 3 “does not include any monitoring plan for the surface and ground water around the facility” and that “the application also does not include any air-monitoring plan.” This, again, is specific to the K&H 3 application and cannot be shrugged off by the fact that earlier applications may have contained similar defects. The ODNR website with the “answers” has in fact no answer to these objections.
The sixth area of concern, about infrastructure, public safety, and property values, states that “a third injection well at the K&H facility will further increase heavy truck traffic, which has a known damaging impact on roads and bridges.” This is, too, a concern specific to the new K&H 3 well and should have been considered accordingly. The point in question here is the cumulative effect of a facility that, due to the potential duplication of its capacity, may attract twice as much traffic and wear and tear on the infrastructure.
A Prime Spot?
It should finally be mentioned that the Columbus Dispatch reports that ODNR geologist Andrew Adgate said “Athens County’s location makes it a prime spot for fracking wastewater.” It is telling to note that the determination of this “prime spot” is made by ODNR officials only, without any actual and meaningful participation of the affected citizens. The “prime spot” designation is also based on willful ignorance of very specific objections against location and operation of this new injection well. The dismissive attitude of ODNR official, which has been documented before, flies in the face of the responsibility ODNR has to the public as a monitoring and safeguarding agency, intended to make sure that the interests of citizens to live a safe and healthy life are not infringed upon by private interests.
Environmental injustice comes in two main forms: distributive injustice and procedural injustice. With the recent permit and the denial of a public hearing, ODNR has managed to commit both distributive injustice (by designating Athens County a “prime spot” for toxic fracking waste disposal) and procedural injustice (by ignoring citizens’ right to participating in the decision making process and by ignoring their concerns and objections). Not a good record for a public institution.