By Lucas Bechtol, CG News
In an effort to boost the state’s lagging economy, new Ohio Gov. John Kasich is considering allowing a gas drilling technique that some citizens say contaminated drinking water in western Pennsylvania.
This technique, called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” will take place in the Marcellus Shale Formation, which runs underneath parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York. The shale could contain as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
When fracking, miners drill a vertical well into a shale formation and drill sideways at the bottom. They then inject up to 4 million gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the L-shaped well to fracture the shale. The fracturing releases natural gas deposits locked in the formation.
When the fracking is done, between 15 and 20 percent of the water, called flowback or wastewater, is forced to the surface. Along the way, it picks up minerals such as barium and sulfur as well as suspended solids and soluble salts. Flowback may also contain small amounts of radium, a radioactive element.
Three options exist for dealing with the wastewater. It can be reused in other fracking operations, stored in injection control wells or sent through a wastewater treatment facility, said Mike Settles, spokesperson for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
An article published on June 21, 2010 in Vanity Fair titled “A Colossal Fracking Mess” related the alleged devastation that hydraulic fracturing had in Dimock, Pennsylvania. According to the article, the water for many citizens of the town began turning brown and making them sick due to a leak in the fracking fluid supply pipes.
An April 26, 2009 article from ProPublica told the story of a Cleveland, Ohio house that exploded because of hydraulic fracturing. An Ohio Department of Natural Resources study found that fracking had pushed methane into an aquifer, which caused the explosion. A Jan. 5 ProPublica article stated that waterways near fracking sites contained high levels of a carcinogen that could form from combining chlorine used in drinking water treatment plants and the bromide found in fracking wastewater.
Kasich has defended fracking as a source of revenue and jobs. He has said drilling in the Marcellus Shale will be a “Godsend” for Ohio. The governor’s office did not return repeated emails and phone calls for comment.
The Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club is against hydraulic fracturing and is concerned with Kasich’s plans, said Matt Trokan, Ohio chapter conservation coordinator.
“It doesn’t seem like he sees the value in our natural resources,” Trokan said.
The Ohio Sierra Club is pursuing legal avenues. One legal strategy is aimed at protecting someone’s water from contamination if his or her neighbors allow fracking on their property, Trokan said.
However, scientists with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources disagree with activist groups. ODNR Geologist Tom Tomastik said hydraulic fracturing is not the cause of problems in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania problems are due to oil wells dug about 100 years ago that were not plugged properly. The issues might also result from residents not cleaning or maintaining their wells and then blaming their water problems on fracking, Tomastik said.
“There are regulations in place to ensure the protection of the environment,” he said.
Any water that doesn’t return to the surface seeps into the pours of the Marcellus Shale Formation, which is 5,000 to 6,000 feet underground. The water is “basically trapped in there permanently,” Tomastik said.
Even though fracking has not begun in Ohio, the state is storing wastewater from fracking projects in other states.
The Ohio EPA recently authorized the Warren Pollution Control Center in Warren, Ohio to accept up to 100,000 gallons of low-salinity fracking wastewater and discharge it into the Mahoning River, Settles said.
“We consider low-salinity 50,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids [salts],” he said. “Some of the wastewater is higher [salinity]. We won’t allow that in Warren.”
The wastewater will first stop at Patriot Water Treatment’s centralized waste treatment facility for a metals removal process. It will then proceed to the Warren facility where it will be mixed with other wastewater before entering the Mahoning River, according to an EPA news release.
The Mahoning River should not be harmed because of limitations on how much wastewater can be put into the river, Settles said. Nevertheless, additional monitoring will be done.
“We want to see if there’s any adverse affects of allowing this,” Settles said. “We’re going to be watching it closely.”
Tomastik said Ohio’s strict regulations for injection wells, which are more stringent than the U.S. EPA’s, protect the environment from any threat for that method of disposal.
Kasich plans on meeting with Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. to discuss the possibilities of drilling in Ohio’s shale deposits.