Ohio House bill targets disposal of ‘fracking’ waste

MARIETTA – A recently introduced Ohio House Bill would halt the use of Ohio injection wells for the disposal of fracking waste.

Introduced by Reps. Denise Driehaus, D-Cincinnati, and Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, HB 148 targets Class II injection wells.

According to Hagan and proponents of the bill, the wells create a potential environmental hazard because the waste they accept – brine left over from the hydraulic fracturing process – is potentially toxic and current law does not require its contents be disclosed.

However, opponents of an across-the-board ban argue that the deep underground is the safest place for the brine and that a ban would have a negative economic impact.

“I think geologically Washington County is one of the best areas for injection wells. I understand people have concerns, but I think the track record over the last 40 years has shown it can be done safely,” said state Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta.

Last year, nearly 14 million barrels of brine were injected into Class II wells throughout the state, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Washington County is currently the site of 11 of the wells, according to an ODNR map updated May 2. There are at least eight wells in Morgan County and five in Noble County.

If passed, the bill would put those wells and another 167 statewide out of commission, possibly discouraging the oil and gas industry from doing business in Ohio, said Thompson.

The negative economic impact was one reason cited for the recent failure of a Youngstown ballot initiative which would have banned hydraulic fracturing in the city, according to the Associated Press.

But the economic benefits pale in comparison to the health risks, warn proponents of HB 148.

“We don’t know what is happening to that brine. We don’t know the chemicals that are in it. Ohio doesn’t require that companies have to disclose what is in it in order to get a permit,” said Betsy Cook, of Lowell, a member of the Southeastern Ohio Fracking Interest Group.

The group is one of 40 community and environmental groups that have officially signed resolutions backing the bill. The Athens and Cincinnati city councils have also supported the bill.

Many of the aging wells throughout the state are tested infrequently and there is a concern that the potentially hazardous brine injected in them could contaminate ground water, added Cook.

“I think the law would help us stop the use of the wells for now while we see what’s happening with the ones we have,” she said.

Though disclosure is not required to get a permit, the material injected into wells is periodically tested, said Thompson. Additionally, Ohio is moving toward a trend of treating the injection water more substantially, he said.

Thompson said he would oppose the bill, but does not imagine it will get far enough in the house to require a vote.

“I don’t think this is one that will get any traction,” he said.