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EPA Reverses Approval of Central Pennsylvania Injection Well

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reversed approval of a Class II injection well it permitted in central Pennsylvania in February, citing stiff opposition and appeals from local residents and public officials during a public comment period.

The 1,000 b/d injection well, which was set to dispose of flowback waste in a depleted natural gas reservoir more than 7,000 feet underground in Clearfield County, could now face additional public comment or new permit conditions after the EPA asked its appeal board to grant a voluntary remand in the matter.

The agency, which oversees the state's underground injection control program, has received dozens of comments from nearby cities and towns opposed to the pressure variances granted under the permit issued to Pennsylvania-based Windfall Oil and Gas Inc., citing its power, potential earthquakes and the possibility for water pollution.

If granted, a voluntary remand would find the EPA issuing a permit with stricter conditions, opening another public comment period or denying the injection well altogether. The move comes at a time when the volumes of horizontal hydraulic fracturing (fracking) wastewater are increasing significantly in the state, with few injection wells available to handle the amounts that are not reused or treated.

An independent report released last year by researchers at Duke University and Kent State University found that wastewater generated in the Marcellus Shale alone had increased by 570% since 2004 (see Shale Daily, Oct. 7, 2013).

Although hundreds of underground injection wells are permitted in Pennsylvania, only seven are active. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, about 14 million bbl of wastewater were generated from drilling in the state during the first six months of 2013. About 90% of that was reused or treated, but much of the wastewater still finds its way to Ohio and West Virginia, where concerns, especially in Ohio, continue to be voiced about growing volumes of out-of-state fracking waste (see Shale Daily, May 7; July 2, 2012).

Wastewater management has become a growing concern for oil and gas producers in the Appalachian Basin (see Shale Daily, Feb. 6), with more treatment facilities slated for operations, regulators in Ohio working to craft improved guidelines for disposal (see Shale Daily, Dec. 24, 2013; Oct. 11, 2013) and $38 billion expected to be spent annually on such operations across the country by 2020, according to IHS Inc.

The EPA issued a draft permit for the Clearfield County injection well in November 2012 for public comment and ever since a growing chorus of opposition has been building, especially when it became evident that the agency would likely approve it. Local news media reported about signs in yards and growing concerns about seismic events in Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, where some studies have linked underground injection to seismic activity (see Shale Daily, March 10; Aug. 8, 2012; March 12, 2012).

The EPA will now reconsider the public comments. It's unclear when a final decision will be made. Earlier this year, the agency issued a final permit to Seneca Resources Corp. for an underground injection well in Elk County, which borders Clearfield County to the north, while another permit in Indiana County to the southwest is still pending under a public comment period.

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