As drilling increases in the Marcellus and Utica shales, researchers from the Battelle Memorial Institute are studying the geology and operations of wastewater injection wells in four states, with the hope that the data collected will ensure that future wells are drilled in safe locations.

Battelle, a nonprofit independent research firm based in Columbus, OH, received a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct a two-year study of injection well operations and host geologic formations in eastern Kentucky, eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.

Neeraj Gupta, senior research leader for Battelle’s energy and environment division, told NGI’s Shale Daily that the scope of the project was to evaluate and understand current operations at wastewater injection wells and the geology under them.

“We believe that if we understand these geologic and operational factors, we can build a better image of where it is suitable to do this work, and provide guidance to operators and stakeholders on not just selecting, but managing these operations,” Gupta said Wednesday.

The Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) awarded Battelle the DOE grant in April. The partnership, based in Sugar Land, TX, said the project was necessary “because brine disposal capacity and costs are becoming a crucial bottleneck in the production life cycle for fluid management” in the Marcellus and Utica shales.

“If they find something within the geology that would require [operators to use] some specialized equipment, they will note that within their research,” Kent Perry, RPSEA vice president for onshore programs, said Wednesday. “But primarily they are looking at the different geologic formations in the Appalachian area to see where potential disposal zones might be located and how they might be accessed.”

RPSEA, which includes universities and oil and gas companies, judges applications for federal energy grants. Its members include Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, and Total E&P Research & Technology LLC, a subsidiary of France’s Total SA.

According to data from the Underground Injection Control program — part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) Mineral Resources Management Oil and Gas Division — injection wells in Ohio handled 14.2 million barrels of wastewater in 2012 (see Shale Daily, July 3).

The ODNR added that in 2012, more wastewater came from out-of-state operations (8.2 million barrels, or 57.6% of the annual total) than in-state (6.0 million barrels, 42.4%). Most of the out-of-state wastewater comes from neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia (see Shale Daily, June 24, 2011).

ODNR spokesman Matt Eiselstein said there are currently 188 injection wells in Ohio.

Wastewater disposal is also on the rise in Pennsylvania. Data from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) shows injection wells in that state handled 1.4 million barrels of wastewater from unconventional oil and gas drilling during the first six months of 2013, a 34.3% increase over the 1.04 million barrels disposed in 1H2012. Another 2.58 million barrels were disposed in 2H2012.

Pennsylvania DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz said the state currently had seven active wastewater disposal wells.

In West Virginia, Kathy Cosco, spokeswoman for that state’s Department of Environmental Protection, told NGI’s Shale Daily that the state currently has 63 active wastewater injection wells. Another spokesman, Tom Aluise, said 2.6 million barrels of wastewater were injected into both commercial and non-commercial injection wells in West Virginia in 2012.

A spokesperson with the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas could not be reached for comment Wednesday.