Despite strict rules governing wastewater disposal wells, enacted after a dozen small earthquakes were possibly caused by the injections, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) is on pace to receive a record number of permit applications this year for new injection wells.

ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans said the agency is processing a backlog of 19 permit applications submitted since late November, around the time the last four of 12 seismic events hit northeastern Ohio.

“We are currently back under review,” Hetzel-Evans told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday. It typically takes between 45 and 60 days to review a permit application and about 10 of the 19 applications were submitted before the ODNR issued a 24-page preliminary report on the earthquakes, which regulators believe were caused by a Class II injection well owned by Youngstown-based D&L Energy Inc. and operated by Northstar Disposal Services LLC (see Shale Daily, March 12).

“Some of those 19 [permit applications] have been in-house for a while,” Hetzel-Evans said. “We’re going back to the ones that have been in here the longest, taking a look at the new standards that we’re going to be applying to them. There is some re-reviewing going on to meet some of the new criteria that are being developed.”

In March the ODNR enacted a ban on drilling any new Class II injection well into the Precambrian basement rock formation. Operators also are required to submit a complete suite of geophysical data for any new Class II injection wells and have to install a continuous pressure monitoring system, an automatic shut-off system if fluid injection pressure exceeds a maximum limit set by the ODNR, and an electronic data recording system to track all fluids brought by a brine transporter for disposal.

However, the new regulations haven’t appeared to discourage business. Hetzel-Evans said since Ohio gained control of the state’s injection well disposal program in 1983, it had averaged between five and eight permit applications a year. Last year a record 29 applications were received.

“Obviously, 29 is a large increase for last year,” Hetzel-Evans said. “This year isn’t even half over and we already have 19. And I’m sure we’ll have more injection well applications coming throughout the rest of the year.” There are 195 injection wells permitted in Ohio, with 172 in operation. Sixteen wells are under construction, and seven have not yet been drilled, she added.

D&L Energy, which has five permit applications, plans to build four additional Class II injection wells in northeastern Ohio: Northstar United 2 in Trumbull County (Liberty Township); Northstar Lucky 4 in Mahoning County (North Lima Township); and Northstar Khalil 3 and Northstar Collins 6 in Mahoning County (Coitsville Township). The company has also applied for a permit to construct a saltwater injection well, the Northstar Nexlev 5, in Trumbull County (Hubbard Township).

“Everything is on hold,” D&L spokesman Vince Bevacqua said Tuesday. “Everybody who has a well in development is basically on hold until the agency figures out what its new regulatory framework is going to be. We’ve had discussions [with ODNR] for sure, but we still don’t have any final determination from them.”

D&L’s Northstar 1 well remains offline and is depressurized; ODNR had asked D&L to halt operations at the well on Dec. 30 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 5). It began operations on Dec. 22, 2010. The ODNR report said the closest known fault system to the Northstar 1 well is the Smith Township Fault, which runs in a northwest-southeast direction in Mahoning County. Maps of the fault indicate that it has had recurrent movement throughout geologic time.

According to the Ohio Seismic Network, 12 earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 2.0 have been recorded in the Youngstown area since March 17, 2011, when two quakes — of 2.1 and 2.6 magnitude — were recorded. Additional earthquakes were recorded on Aug. 22 (2.2 magnitude), Aug. 25 (2.4), Sept. 2 (2.2), Sept. 26 (2.6), Sept. 30 (2.7), Oct. 20 (2.3), Nov. 25 (2.2), Dec. 24 (2.7), Dec. 31 (4.0) and Jan. 13, 2012 (2.1).

Last year regulators in Arkansas established a moratorium on wastewater disposal wells in an area of the Fayetteville Shale after similar quake activity was reported there (see Shale Daily, July 29, 2011; March 4, 2011).