Fracking protesters want changes for waste disposal

Jul 17, 2012

Civil disobedience is a tactic that's starting to be adopted in Ohio by at least some environmentalists protesting the oil and gas drilling method often called fracking.

Two weeks ago, an Athens county woman chained herself to equipment at the site of a deep-injection well where drilling waste water is disposed of. And this week, a Maryland man was charged with criminal trespass for chaining himself to a gate at a disposal well in Trumbull County. The activists contend that this waste is so dangerous, it should be disposed of differently...but Ohio natural resources officials say they're not allowed to make that change. Statehouse correspondent Bill Cohen reports.

Reverend Monica Beasley-Martin was one of two dozen protestors of waste disposal at the Northeast Ohio site. She did not get arrested, but as a nearby resident she is plenty worried about the waste possibly polluting drinking water. A recent spill from the truck carrying the chemical and salt-laden waste hiked up her fears. Beasley-Martin says since not all the waste is constantly tested, it's possible it has such dangerous stuff that should not be disposed of in the 170 wells Ohio has for this purpose. Instead, it should go into 10 other Ohio wells used to dispose of waste labeled hazardous. 

MBM: The last time ODNR did any testing of this brine was in 1989. Now since that time period there have been a lot of changes and hydraulic fracturing has become more of a common thing. Additional chemicals, many of which are toxic and radioactive are included. We need to know exactly what's in it. If this has been determined to be hazardous then it doesn't need to be going to some of the injection wells that we have around here because these particular injection wells aren't meant for that. They need to go into the ten or so specifically for hazardous material.

Beasley-Martin and other protestors want Ohioans to prod the Natural Resources Department to do more testing and to switch disposal sites. Carl LoParo speaks for the agency. He says everyone already agrees that fracking waste is dangerous so there's no need to test every batch of it. And besides, LoParo says, the federal government has ordered Ohio to inject this waste into wells meant only for drilling waste.

CL: 30 years these wells have been deemed safest disposal method for this type of waste water. We know what goes into those wells because we know what's used to hydraulically fracture wells. Those chemicals are reported to us. They're injected 8000 feet into the ground in between impermeable rock. There's absolutely no way that fluid can migrate upwards through solid rock to impact the environment and we've not had one instance of ground water contamination from injecting this fluid into these wells.

BC: These protestors say though, that some of this fracking fluid might be even more dangerous than people think and perhaps it should be put into another group of wells built for factory waste that's actually called hazardous.

CL: Right, and it's easy to be confused. However, these wells are constructed essentially the same way. The difference is the U.S. EPA, in a way to catalog what type of waste water is going into which wells requires that oil and gas waste, regardless of its composition go into these so-called Class Two injection wells. And the U.S. EPA requires that waste water from factory operations go into these Class One hazardous injection wells.

A veteran lawyer for Ohio environmental causes concedes LoParo is right about that last point. Rick Solley acknowledges the feds don't now allow states to dispose of drilling waste meant for industrial waste.

RS: Current federal rules on underground injection classify these wells by the type of source of the waste.

Not how dangerous the waste is.

But Solley quickly adds that separation of waste based on where it comes from should be dropped by the feds. He says Ohio's 10 wells for factory waste are indeed more secure than the 170 used for drilling waste.

RS: The wells for the hazardous industrial waste, there's a much more extended permitting process, there's more examination of the geology in which the well is built. There's tighter construction controls and there's better oversight in ensuring that the waste down there doesn't come to the surface.

Expect this debate to boil more soon. New proposed rules on drilling in Ohio will be considered by a legislative committee.