MARIETTA - The state's first approval of new injection well sites in nearly a year will allow two more in Washington County.
Two sites in Newport Township at a new well and at a conversion of an existing oil and gas well - were among four permits granted last week by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
Approval of applications had been on hold while the state studied an earthquake in the Youngstown area linked to the practice of disposing of millions of gallons of chemical-laced wastewater from the hydraulic fracturing process by injecting it into wells deep underground.
New regulations are meant to address those and other concerns, including a prohibition against drilling into Precambrian basement rock and granting the division authority to require seismic surveying and monitoring.
Heidi Hetzel-Evans, communications manager with the division, said the U.S. EPA has determined class 2 injection wells like the ones approved are "the safest and most environmentally responsible method of disposal."
Both of the proposed Newport Township wells will be more than 7,500 feet deep.
"They are designed to entomb this water permanently," Hetzel-Evans said.
They both can accept only saltwater from oil and gas operations, which can be mixed with chemicals, or standard well treatment fluid.
Both permit holders have agreed to seismic monitoring at the sites.
Some people are concerned about the impact the practice could have on the environment.
A group of protesters on Monday attempted to block the entrance to an injection well in Athens County; they dispersed when asked to by law enforcement.
Newport resident Charles Bartrug, 74, said the new well would be on Washington County 244 between Newport and Milltown, about half a mile from his home.
"When they pump that back into the ground, it's pumped under pressure. And I'm afraid it might spread to our water system," he said.
The precise location of the converted well was not immediately available.
Hetzel-Evans said the EPA gave the state authority over injection well disposal matters in 1983. Since then there have been no cases of groundwater contamination related to the process, which Bartrug said provides some comfort to him.
The new regulations require each injection well to be equipped with a shut-off switch if maximum injection pressure is exceeded.
And wells are inspected, on average, every 10 to 11 weeks, even though federal requirements only mandate one inspection a year, Hetzel-Evans said.
Newport Township Trustee Rodney King said there are already a handful of other wells in the township and he's not concerned about new ones.
"I think they've checked it out pretty good," he said of state regulators. "I think it's safe."
It's not known how soon the wells might be constructed.
An employee of Ohio Oil Gathering Corp., which would build the new one, said he isn't sure if or when drilling might take place, due to the delay in the approval process.
A call to Texas-based GreenHunter Water, which received the permit to convert the existing well, was not returned.
The division is considering 30 other permit applications from around the state, including two in Noble County and one in Morgan County.