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Ohio Sees Increase in Out-of-State Well Wastewater

Ohio officials say the percentage of wastewater originating from out-of-state natural gas wells has increased 10% and predicts that it will continue to climb in the coming years.

According to figures from the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program -- part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' (ODNR) Mineral Resources Management Oil and Gas Division (MRMD) -- 2.4 million bbl of brine were delivered to the 170 injection wells throughout Ohio for disposal during 1Q2011.

Heidi Hetzel-Evans, a spokeswoman for the UIC, told NGI's Shale Daily that 49% of the 1Q2011 total -- slightly less than 1.18 million bbl -- came from wells that are out of state. She added that by comparison, only 39% of the brine received by Ohio during 4Q2010 was from other states.

"We do expect out-of-[state] waste will continue to increase because of pressure, such as lack of disposal in Pennsylvania," Hetzel-Evans said Tuesday.

In April the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), at the direction of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, asked Marcellus Shale operators to stop taking their gas well wastewater to municipal facilities in Pennsylvania by May 19 (see Shale Daily, April 20). After the deadline passed, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association said many operators were having their wastewater hauled to Ohio (see Shale Daily, May 20a).

"It's not just Pennsylvania," Hetzel-Evans said. "We have service haulers making deliveries from several border states, including West Virginia and Kentucky."

According to Hetzel-Evans, the MRMD currently holds primacy over all aspects of oil and gas exploration, development and production in Ohio, and since 1983 has controlled the injection well disposal program through the UIC program. She said the program was overhauled by the Ohio General Assembly last year with the passage of SB165, which essentially set fees of 5 cents/bbl for brine produced in Ohio and 20 cents/bbl for brine from other states. The bill also raised the permit fees for injecting brine into underground formations from $100 to $1,000.

"The fees were raised to help pay for the programs those fees support," Hetzel-Evans said, refuting a newspaper article's assertion that the fees were raised to discourage the delivery of brine from outside Ohio. "The fees that are now being brought in by disposal are used to help fund the UIC program. Our division is no longer receiving any general revenue funding from the state. We are completely funded through fees and grants."

Trent Dougherty, an attorney for the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), agreed that SB165 was designed to create a revenue source for the ODNR, but added that it was also intended to create a disincentive for accepting out-of-state brine.

"We felt that increasing the fees last year was a positive move," Dougherty told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday. "The hope was that it would limit the truckloads and truckloads of produced waters coming into Ohio from out of state. We've been taking produced waters from other states for decades. It's been the safest way for disposal and we're one of the only states in the region that have Class 2 injection wells. But we are very concerned now because of this huge boom in Marcellus and Utica shale drilling."

Dougherty said the state should begin testing out-of-state brine to make sure forbidden contaminants, such as radioactive material, weren't being disposed of in Ohio's injection wells.

"We're not sure the state knows exactly what the constituents are of these waters that are coming in," Dougherty said. "With this huge increase, we're not sure the state of Ohio has the capability to make sure that these waters are tested and monitored the right way."

Hetzel-Evans conceded that the UIC expects out-of-state waste to continue coming to Ohio. As a consequence, she said, the UIC "expects to see an increase in Class 2 injection well permits. These are the deep injection wells used for oil and gas drilling waste products." She added that four permits for new injection wells were currently under review.

Hetzel-Evans said Ohio injection wells handled more than 7 million bbl of brine in 2009, the latest year figures were available.

Dougherty said the OEC isn't sure how many more injection wells Ohio will need to handle the increased demand, and whether the state is prepared to accept more out-of-state brine.

"We do have some questions whether Ohio has the inspectors and the capabilities to test what those waters are," Dougherty said. "[Pennsylvania] has said 'no' to this water, so there must be an issue. We want to make sure Ohio is taking all of the precautions necessary to make sure that what's going down there [into the injection wells] should go down there."

Asked if Ohio should raise fees again out-of-state brine, Dougherty said he didn't think it would matter.

"The oil and gas companies are making quite a bit of money from drilling in Pennsylvania," he said. "I don't think it will be too much of a deterrent to increase those fees, even by orders of magnitude. I don't think that's a disincentive. The hope is we have enough money to make sure that the proper protections and people are put in place to enforce our laws, and that we don't have any adverse effects to groundwater from this influx of wastewater."

Corbett and the DEP cited newly revised regulations over total dissolved solids (TDS) as the reason for having operators stop bringing wastewater to 15 municipal wastewater treatment facilities in Pennsylvania that were still taking it. The process of removing TDS from wastewater also removes nontoxic bromides, but these become trihalomethanes (THM) when combined with chlorine. The DEP found elevated levels of bromide in rivers in western Pennsylvania earlier this year.

"Thankfully the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency [OEPA] has closed the door on Pennsylvania and other states from bringing wastewater into our local communities and discharging through our wastewater treatment plants," Dougherty said.

In May the OEPA stopped plans by three Ohio cities -- Warren, Steubenville and East Liverpool -- from allowing their municipal wastewater treatment facilities to accept brine from oil and gas drilling, citing similar concerns over THM (see Shale Daily, May 20b).

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