Ohio- Thousands of gallons of fracking waste spilled from an oil and gas well in Noble County for four days before it was stopped, Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirmed Thursday.
“Containment measures have been put in place to prevent the flow of fluid into a nearby tributary,” said Sarah Wickham, an ODNR spokeswoman. “The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and local officials were notified and have assisted the Division in the response.”
The spill was first reported by an adjacent landowner on Alfred Brown Road in Dexter City on Jan. 24 to the state’s incident notification line, Wickham said. The cause of the spill was not immediately known and is under investigation.
ODNR said preliminary tests show the fluid appears to be fracking waste.
The well, which is located on a 40-acre site in Jackson Township, is owned by Parksburg, West Virginia-based Genesis Resources, an independent oil and gas operator. The company operates vertical oil and gas wells in Ohio at geological depth ranging from 500 feet to more than 7,000 feet. As of Friday morning, the company did not respond to a request for comment.
Oil and gas well drillers use a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in which they inject sand, water and chemicals to blast through rock layers thousands of feet below the surface to release oil and gas trapped within.
The fluid that is leftover, also known as brine, is a byproduct that is collected, transported and then permanently stored in injection wells. Ohio has more than 200 injection wells that are full of fluid with waste ingredients that many companies don’t have to disclose, citing trade secret protections.
“There have been no injuries or evacuations and the extent of impact to the environment has not yet been determined,” Wickham said in a statement.
A nearby tributary, Taylor Fork, was initially affected by the spill, with an unknown amount of fish getting killed off.
About 39,000 barrels of fluid were collected and disposed of, she said.
The well, which is named Gant Florence/Ohio Power Co., had its first year of production in 1986, according to ODNR records. However, the last time the well produced a sizeable amount of gas was in 2012. The well has a depth of more than 6,000 feet.
Records show the well is still labeled as a producing well even though it hasn’t been in use for some time.
“Moreover, this well should have been plugged once it was determined to be non producing, according to ODNR’s own regulations,” said Teresa Mills, executive director of Buckeye Environmental Network.
Matt Hammond, president of Ohio Oil and Gas Association said in a statement, “Ohio’s gas and oil industry is subject to strict regulatory oversight and our association continues to support rigorous, common-sense rules to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of the communities in which we operate. The operator of this well is not a member of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Based on what we know, it is unclear why the well was not plugged, as the regulations require the well to be plugged once determined to be non-producing.”
One person posted video of the spill Facebook, saying, “This is what injection wells do to oil and gas wells that have been dead for six years. That’s 2.2 barrels of brine water a minute folks over two miles of fish kill.”
Experts say people can be exposed to fracking waste through spills, air emissions, the migration of underground fluids from injection wells where fracking wastewater is disposed of, or the migration of oil and gas at production wells.
In September, ODNR notified the public fracking waste from an injection well in Washington County migrated to gas-producing wells at least five miles away.
There are least nine injection wells permitted in Noble County. As of 2019, 1.9 million barrels of fracking waste was injected and stored thousands of feet underground. Six wells were active at that time.
Of those, two injection wells owned by Marietta-based DeepRock Disposal Solutions are less than three miles away from the Gant Florence well. A third injection well owned by Columbus-based Northwood Energy is less than four miles away, records show, Mills said. A message seeking comment was left with both companies.
Neither company has reported any issues to ODNR this past week, Wickham said.
Noble County had the seventh highest volume of frack waste in the state in 2019, records show, Mills said.
“There are an estimated 150,000 or more abandoned wells in Ohio that ODNR doesn’t even know the location of. As evidenced by the recent blowout, this is a ticking time bomb waiting to happen,” Mills said. “We have been exposing Ohio as a radioactive dumping ground that accepts oil and gas waste from all over the region for more than ten years. The state follows the whims of the oil and gas industry over the residents and the environment. This must stop.”
“It is not yet clear if state authorities ever notified the public,” according to a statement from Sierra Club.
Spills are typically reported to the U.S. EPA’s National Response Center, but in this case no reports were made.
“Because preliminary testing indicated the fluid involved was brine, the incident did not meet national reporting threshold,” Wickham said.
Shelly Corbin, campaign representative in Ohio for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign, said the fracking industry continues to put Ohioans at risk.
“Enough is enough; Gov. DeWine should immediately issue a moratorium on fracked gas projects and the disposal of oil and gas waste in Ohio while strengthening commonsense protections for the health of our air, water, climate, and communities,” she said in a statement.
“If Gov. DeWine can’t protect the people of his own state from dirty, dangerous fracked gas projects, then the U.S. EPA should step in and use every power at its disposal to do so.”