Two Democratic lawmakers from Northeast Ohio have introduced a bill that would see the communities they represent and others where injection wells are located receive more of the fees collected to dispose of oil and gas waste.
State Reps. Glenn Holmes and Mike O’Brien, both of Trumbull County, introduced House Bill (HB) 578 last week. Under the proposal, 37.5% of the out-of-district injection well fees collected by the state would be redirected to the municipalities and townships where the wells are located. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) regulates underground injection wells and collects all fees from the state’s operators.
Under current law, ODNR receives 5 cents/barrel for waste that’s been produced and injected inside a regulatory district. When the injected waste is produced outside of a regulatory district, but disposed inside it, ODNR collects 20 cents/barrel.
“All we are asking for is that ODNR and the injection well industry be good community partners in dealing with this very sensitive issue,” Holmes said. “We think it is only fair that the community see some type of remediation for the impacts of dumping in our communities. Furthermore, we need to explore the technologies to stop the need for injection wells altogether.”
The lawmakers’ bill would also change setback requirements for injection wells, requiring that they be 300 feet or more from occupied dwellings instead of the current 150-foot setback.
Operators disposed of 35.8 million barrels of oil and natural gas drilling waste in the state’s injection wells last year, according to the Ohio Oil and Gas Association’s Debrosse Memorial Report. That was up from the 29.4 million barrels disposed in 2016. Injection volumes in the state have increased significantly since 2011, when the first commercial production was reported from the Utica Shale.
According to ODNR, there are 217 active Class II brine injection wells in Ohio, where the geology is considered more suitable to that of surrounding states for underground waste disposal. There’s a significant concentration of the wells in Northeast Ohio, particularly in Stark, Portage, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties, which sit farther to the north of the heaviest Utica development in southeast Ohio and west of Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania.
ODNR spokesman Steve Irwin said the agency collected nearly $2.2 million in out-of-district injection well fees last year. The agency collected about $690,000 for in-district fees, he said.
Some of Northeast Ohio has partly benefited from shale development, with several manufacturers having moved in over the years to make pipe and other parts for the industry. But some of the region, including places like Trumbull and Mahoning counties, were once thought to overlay the Utica’s sweet spot. However, operators eventually moved farther to the south, and injection well operations have since overshadowed exploration and production in the northeastern part of the state.
HB 578 is awaiting committee assignment. But those in the Mahoning Valley, which includes Trumbull and Mahoning counties, where Youngstown is located, are wary of underground shale waste disposal.
An injection well in Youngstown was linked by state regulators to a 4.0-magnitude earthquake that rattled the city in 2011. The owner of the well was later sent to prison in an unrelated federal case for directing his employees to dump thousands of gallons of oilfield waste into a storm drain that emptied into a major river in the city.
Holmes joined residents in Trumbull County’s Brookfield Township last week for a rally against a proposal to build three injection wells, which is already home to other disposal wells.