Commissioners Asked To Weigh In On Injection Well Complaint

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The Athens County Commissioners were asked Tuesday to lend their support to a complaint filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding two injection wells near Torch.

Andrea Reik and Heather Cantino of the Athens County Fracking Action Network asked the commissioners to write a letter of support for the complaint filed June 4 by ACFAN and Appalachia Resist.

As The Athens Messenger reported last week, the complaint raises concerns about the cement casing of an recently drilled injection well owned by K&H Partners of West Virginia, and about a soil and water contamination incident during drilling of the well. The complaint also reiterates concerns raised earlier about another K&H injection well that has already been in operation nearby.

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heather Lauer told The Messenger on Tuesday that the agency did oversee cleanup Jan. 17 of a brine spill that occurred when a pocket of pressurized brine was hit during the drilling of the second well. Brine was vacuumed up and contaminated soil removed, she said. Brine got into a nearby stream, but Lauer said the EPA and Ohio Department of Natural Resources determined it did not impact wildlife in the stream.

Citing inspection reports, the ACFAN complaint states that contaminated soil was used to build a containment wall around the well before it was ordered removed.

“I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I don’t have anything about that,” Lauer said.

Related: Appalachia Resist talked about its recent protests and its member's arrest for trespassing

She said the spill was reported to Ohio EPA by Kerry Brown of Monroe Drilling Operations.

ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said a $50,000 fine was levied against K&H Partners because of the spill, and the company was ordered to build a larger containment area.

According to the complaint filed by ACFAN and Appalachian Resist, inspection reports show that cement levels dropped several times while the casing was being poured for the second well and additional cement had to be added several times, with the cement dropping a total of 410 feet.

“Apparently, there was no further investigation about where the cement was going or why its level was dropping,” the complaint states. “The loss of so much cement down the well shaft could imply a fissure or conduit. When taken with the unexpected hitting of water during drilling, there is clear cause for concern of fluid migration into the aquifer.”

However, Bruce said the need to add more cement is common and is referred to as “topping off.” He said ODNR inspectors were present when the cement was added.

“There was no problem with the cementing,” Bruce said, adding that what occurred “is in no way an indication that there is a failure in the well.”

According to Bruce, ONDR conducted 46 inspections of the drilling operation between Jan. 1 and May 1.

The complaint asserts that there has been a “fundamental breakdown in Ohio’s regulatory process” regarding injection wells and asks the U.S. EPA to exercise its oversight authority to correct problems in the management of the injection well program.

The complaint also asks that the U.S. EPA “bring appropriate enforcement action” in federal court against the well operator, and asks that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources be required to adopt a standard operating procedure to deal with emergency and remedial situations.

“I think it just would strengthen the complaint of ACFAN and AR if the county commissioners … would be willing to follow up with a similar complaint,” Reik told the commissioners.

“I know you don’t have any real power (regarding injection wells),” Cantino said, “but you have your voices and you have official voices and we really need them raise again because this is intolerable.”

The commissioners were given copies of the complaint to review, and did not take any action at Tuesday’s meeting.

At the suggestion of Commissioner Chris Chmiel, the commissioners decided to take a field trip to the site of the injection wells next week.

Reik and Cantino also brought to the commissioners’ attention an article by Environment & Energy Publishing which reported that Tom Tomastik, a geologist in ODNR’s injection well program, wrote an email in which he referred to a public comment submitted by an Athens County resident during the well permitting process as “the kind of crap I have to deal with from our folks who live in Athens.”

Bruce confirmed that the comment was made, but said Tomastik does not speak for the agency, nor does he have final decision-making authority over permit applications.