Injection Wells

What Are the Problems With Injection Wells?

The oil and gas industry uses large amounts of water for fracking. Already in 2011, the EPA estimated that fracking operations used 70 to 140 billion gallons of water each year, which is “approximately the annual water consumption of 40 to 80 cities each with a population of 50,000” (Earthworks: Hydraulic Fracturing 101). Today, the number will be much higher, as the number of fracking operations has increased dramatically since 2011

Some of that water, mixed with toxic chemicals, stays in the fracking well, some (between 20% and 70%) comes back to the surface and needs to be disposed of. According to the 2013 report Fracking by Numbers (p. 21), the amount of fracking wastewater per year is about 280 billion gallons. For comparison: the public residential use of water per year is ca. 9,855 billion gallons.

This means, residential use is about 35 times more than fracking wastewater. However, while the residential water is 100% fed back into the water cycle (through sewage treatment plants, etc.), the toxic wastewater cannot be recycled or cleaned up and therefore has to be taken out of circulation and is lost forever. This is why it is stored in deep underground wells, usually in a porous rock  formation at a depth of 2000 to 6000 feet (ca. 600 to 1800 meters). Currently, there are over 172,000 Class II injection wells in the United States. Class II wells are specifically designated for “brines and other fluids associated with oil and gas production, and hydrocarbons for storage” (US EPA: Classes of Wells).

Contrary to the other classes of hazardous injection wells (Class I, III, and IV), Class II injection wells are treated as low risk wells. Whiled they are inspected for safety (spills, valves, pressure, overflow ponds, tanks, etc.), they do not require special monitoring wells that would detect underground migration of the stored fluids. This definition as “harmelss” is based on a semantic trick, which declares fracking wastewater to be “brine” — saltwater. 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.

In reality, fracking 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)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 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, thus opening up paths for toxic wastewater migration.

Casings1Indeed, the question is not if, but only how soon they will  fail. In other words,  there is a risk, increasing over time, that aquifers will be polluted by migrating 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 stated 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.

In March 2015, Ohio had 202 active wells with 17 additional newly drilled wells and another 22 permitted wells, adding up to 243 wells (source: ODNR 2015). According to ODNR figures from 2014, Ohio injected 22 million barrels of fracking fluids into its injection wells, a 32 percent growth compared to 2013.

Ohio is also one of four states that is exempt from federal EPA oversight based on the assumption of “adequate” state management. However, a 2015 study by Earthworks showed that Ohio and the other states “neither regulate oil and gas development wastes as hazardous, nor can assure the public that they are protected from exposure to hazardous waste.”

The study found that, contrary to assurances by officials, there is no proper monitoring and tracking of the waste. The radioactivity of the fracking waste is defined “as Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM),” which allows to dispose it without monitoring. “Ohio does not require operators to test or disclose the chemicals in its waste prior to injection.” The permit process is often set up in a way that the public and local governments are excluded from the participation: “In 2014, ODNR issued authorizations for 23 waste facilities to process oil and gas field waste using ‘Chief’s Orders’ that circumvent public notification requirements and local government review.”

Athens County has eight active injection wells and is a major destination for fracking wastewater (see table below). In 2014, Athens County was already the second largest recipient of fracking fluids in Ohio, after Coshocton County. With the new K&H 3 injection well, which was permitted in April 2015, Athens County will likely become “the top in wastewater injections.”


The K&H injection well facility with storage tanks

The K&H injection well facility, which is between Coolville and Torch right next to highway 50, is by far the biggest such operation in Athens County, now consisting of three wells. The K&H 1 well receives up to 2100 barrels of toxic fluids per day (66,150 gallons). The K&H 2 well can process up to 4000 barrels a day (126,000 gallons). The newly permitted K&H 3 is permitted to receive up to 12,000 barrels per day (378,000 gallons), which will more than double the overall capacity of the K&H facility.

Injection Wells in Athens County
(click on Longitude/Latitude to go to well location on map)
Township Well
Latitude / Longitude
Alexander Carper Well Service,
Millard E. Carper, 30745 State Route 7, Marietta, OH 45750, (740) 374-2567
Canaan Petro Quest Inc,
C. & P.J. Gerig, 3 West Stimson Ave., Athens,
OH 45701, (740) 593-3800
Lee Lee Oil & Gas Co,
326 Spirea Drive, Dayton, OH 45419, (937) 223-8891
Rome Stonebridge Operating Co, 1635 Warren Chapel Rd, Fleming, OH 45729, (740) 373-6134
39.299772, -81.895432
(SWIW #9)
Rome D T Atha Inc, David T. Atha, 29030 Rockstull Rd, Sugar Grove, OH 43155, (740) 746-8567 39.29150
K&H (1)
Troy (Permitted in Nov. 2012)
K&H Partners LLC, Jeff Harper, P.O. Box 1366, Parkersburg, WV 26102, (304) 863-8867 39.235887, -81.757837
in Dec. 2013)
K&H Partners LLC, Jeff Harper, P.O. Box 1366, Parkersburg, WV 26102, (304) 863-8867 39.235887, -81.757837
in April 2015)
K&H Partners LLC, Jeff Harper, P.O. Box 1366, Parkersburg, WV 26102, (304) 863-8867 39.235887, -81.757837

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