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Enviro Groups Sue Ohio Regulators Over Waste Handling Facilities

Two environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) claiming that the agency illegally approved more than 20 oil and gas waste handling facilities by failing to abide by the state’s rulemaking process.

The complaint, filed in Ohio's Tenth District Court of Appeals in Franklin County, also lists Republican Gov. John Kasich as a defendant. The Ohio-based Fresh Water Accountability Project and Food & Water Watch, a national organization, are the plaintiffs.

The groups contend that ODNR "must adhere to the formal rulemaking process, which includes a public comment period," adding that "no rules have been made available to the public, yet ODNR has already approved several of these facilities." Instead, the groups claim that the handling, storage, processing and recycling facilities in question were approved explicitly by ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management Chief Rick Simmers.

"It truly is unfortunate that the only remedy that can now be sought is through the courts once again," Fresh Water Managing Director Lea Harper said after the lawsuit was filed in November. "I don't know what it takes to get our governing bodies to take action to protect Ohio's environmental and economic future." Harper has been a staunch critic of the state’s oil and gas industry.

The environmental groups are asking for declaratory action to force ODNR to implement its rulemaking process before the facilities are approved by Simmers and operations begin.

ODNR spokesman Matt Eiselstein said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

The latest lawsuit is also not the first brought against ODNR by an environmental group. Most recently, the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed a complaint filed against the agency by the Sierra Club after both parties settled over allegations that ODNR failed to comply with a public records request about how it handled a series of oil and gas violations (see Shale Daily, Jan. 9)

Waste generated by unconventional oil and gas drilling has been a bone of contention throughout the Appalachian Basin as production continues to soar, particularly in Ohio, where more than 200 underground injection wells have been permitted (seeShale Daily, Sept. 19; Feb. 6) On its website, the agency said nearly all production and flowback water generated during the unconventional drilling process in the state is disposed of underground.

Last year, Ohio operators generated 14.2 million barrels of wastewater. The agency has also been working to update regulations for wastewater impoundments, recycling plants and injection wells (see Shale Daily, Jan. 17; Dec. 24, 2013).

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