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Local officials unconvinced of gas-well safety
Local officials unconvinced of gas-well safety
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
A survey of Hambden residents showed one of the priorities for the township should be to keep it rural.
Helen Scheuring, chairwoman of the township's zoning commission, said keeping the township rural will depend on being able to rely on clean well water.
So, when residents heard that an injection gas well is operating in the township, they had questions and concerns about whether such an operation could threaten their water and way of life, Mrs. Scheuring said.
Injection wells are used to force drilling fluids and brine deep into the earth's rock layers, through the same ground that holds the water that Hambden residents rely on.
Last week, Mrs. Scheuring and Township Trustees called on officials from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency to explain what injection wells are and how they work.
About a half-dozen residents, as well as representatives from Chester, Newbury and Munson townships attended. Also in attendance were Geauga County Commissioner Tracy Jemison and Geauga County Planning Director David Dietrich.
"We're here to answer questions," Thomas Tugend, deputy chief of ODNR's division of mineral resources management, said. "We're not here to tell you to like one thing or not like another."
Mr. Tugend said his agency is responsible for issuing permits to drill new wells, plug old ones and use wells for the injection of drilling fluids and brine.
The Ohio agency serves as manager for the federal government, which has set the rules for injection wells, he said. Ohio, in turn, has set even stricter standards than the federal government for injection wells, he said.
Mike McCormac, ODNR's oil and gas permitting manager, said, since the program was put in place in 1983, there has been no subsurface water contamination from injection wells.
He said there are three layers of protection. A surface casing is a steel pipe that is set at least 50 feet below the deepest of underground drinking water. It is then cemented on the backside to the surface. A second steel pipe, called production casing, is set at or through the injection zone and cemented at least 300 feet above the top of the injection zone. A "tubing" is then set withing 100 feet of the injection zone.
While most water wells descend only about 300 feet at most, he said, injection wells are placed in the neighborhood of 3,500 feet. He said there are 170 injection wells operating in the state.
Tom Tomastik, a geologist with ODNR, said an injection well can be drilled as new or can be adapted from a well that is no longer commercially productive. He said drilling fluids are composed 99.5 percent of water and sand. The remaining portion may be volatile chemicals, many of which are found in household chemicals, he said.
Mr. Tugend said much of the fluids injected are coming from other states, including New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Unless the state does away with injection wells, it cannot prohibit them from coming in as it would violate interstate commerce laws, he said.
Mr. Tomastik said if there is a "catastrophic failure," the drilling company is responsible for replacing the water source. He said drillers are required to carry $3 million in insurance for urban areas and $1 million for non-urban areas. But he said people are more likely to inhale more volatile chemicals when they are filling up their cars with gasoline than they are living next to injection wells.
Tom Hill, an inspector for ODNR, said only two injection wells exist in Geauga County, one in Hambden and one in Munson. The Hambden well, at Williams and Rock Creek (Route 166) roads, has been in operation since the 1980s.
State Sen. Timothy Grendell, R-Chester, said injection wells are likely to "become a growing issue in our county."
While most drilling has been restricted to the Clinton sandstone formations, drillers now are looking toward the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits, which are expected to yield high reserves of natural gas, Mr. Grendell said. While the Marcellus deposits are shallow in Geauga, he said, the Utica shales may make drilling more attractive here.
He said drillers now are exploring Columbiana County, where they are paying up to $2,000 an acre for leasing rights. "It could be coming our way," he said.
Mr. Grendell said the state needs more inspectors to ensure that drillers continue to do things properly. "The key word is done properly," he said.
One only needs to look at what happened in Bainbridge Township to see what can happen when things go wrong, Mr. Grendell. A drilling operation there contaminated the water wells of 25 homes, requiring the hauling in of water for two years.
"The potential that this goes awry is a concern," he said.
Mr. Grendell said he is hoping to strengthen restrictions for drillings, including increasing the insurance requirements.
Robert Weisdack, Geauga County health commissioner, said he's concerned with the volatile chemicals that he said are cancer causing. "When I look at this with my training, I'm greatly concerned." He said cancers caused by the chemicals may not show in a population until 15 to 20 years later.
Mr. Tomastik said people have more problems with not maintaining their water wells than with a threat from the volatile chemicals, which are "in the parts per billion, if even that."
Township officials said they want some type of notification that injection wells are being planned for their communities.
Mr. Tomastik said the state agency is only required to publish a public notice in a newspaper of general circulation, but he would be willing to notify a community if it requests it.
Mr. Jemison said more power must be given to local communities. He said, when commissioners were negotiating with drillers to bring a waterline to those affected in Bainbridge, the cost was $1.4 million, but the driller was only willing to pay $500,000.
"We need a little more power to the people who were trying to bring in the water and less power to the people who caused the problem," he said.
The waterline was only a quarter mile from where the people needed it in Bainbridge, but Hambden is 10 miles or more from a waterline, Mr. Jemison said.
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