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EPA Gives Thumbs-Up to Ohio's Oil/Gas Waste Injection Well Program

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a favorable report on Ohio's Class II Underground Injection Control (UIC) program for oil and natural gas drilling waste disposal, calling the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' (ODNR) oversight of the program "good quality."

The agency said ODNR's program meets or exceeds federal requirements in 17 of the 20 criteria reviewed for the report. That counters what for years now have been complaints from environmental and community groups that state regulators have mismanaged the program and put the state's residents and environment at risk.

Ohio is home to more than 200 active injection wells, which receive oil and gas waste from the Marcellus and Utica shales, along with conventional fields. Those wells are scattered throughout the state, but most are located in eastern Ohio near Utica Shale and conventional drilling operations.

ODNR said that in the second quarter the state's Utica Shale wells alone produced more than 3.1 million barrels of brine, most of which is either disposed of in underground injections wells, reused or recycled. The EPA reviewed how the department permits, inspects, tests, restricts and monitors Class II injection wells. The report found that the state's program is "strong in several areas, including permitting, inspections and resolving violations found during inspections."

Ohio received primacy from the EPA to oversee underground injection wells in the state in 1983. The agency said that since it was granted primacy, ODNR inspectors have witnessed all of the initial mechanical integrity tests before a well enters service.

"ODNR's high inspection presence is a key component for a program that relies in part on inspections to ensure ongoing mechanical integrity of Class II wells," the EPA report said. "ODNR has strengthened its field inspections by adding staff inspectors whose time is fully dedicated to UIC inspections." The report also said Ohio is second only to North Dakota in the number of inspections conducted each year.

In April, a coalition of environmental and community groups asked the EPA to review the state's UIC program, saying injection wells were being disproportionately permitted in low-income areas. That request came after years of similar complaints about the state's alleged mismanagement of the program and calls for the EPA to take it over as oilfield waste disposal has increased in the state with the rise in unconventional oil and gas drilling in the region.

ODNR spokesman Eric Heis, however, said EPA’s report was part of a regularly scheduled review. The agency last analyzed Ohio’s program in 2009.

The report did suggest program enhancements, including storing more operator information electronically and closing operator reporting gaps. ODNR said it has started to address those concerns and would continue working to improve its UIC program.

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