Simply Living provides testimony on oil and gas waste disposal rules

On Monday, December 6, the Ohio legislature’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) heard testimony on regulations proposed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to manage disposal of oil and gas waste. Executive Director Cathy Cowan Becker testified on behalf of Simply Living and the Ohio Sustainable Business Council. Here is her testimony, which you can also read here (starting page 46) and watch here (credit: Carolyn Harding).

Map of frack waste injection wells in Ohio
Map of frack waste injection wells in Ohio

Chair Callendar, Vice Chair Gavarone, and members of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review,

Thank you for the opportunity to testify regarding proposed rules for the disposal of oil and gas waste in Class II injection wells in Ohio. My name is Cathy Cowan Becker, and I am executive director of Simply Living, a Columbus nonprofit that promotes sustainability, environmental justice, and our local economy. Simply Living works with the Ohio Sustainable Business Council, a statewide coalition of businesses committed to local, state, and federal policy that supports a vibrant, just, and sustainable economy.

Eight years ago, the Ohio legislature ordered the state’s Department of Natural Resources to come up with administrative rules for how waste from oil and gas facilities would be managed. This is important because Ohio is a fracking state, and fracking produces millions of gallons of highly toxic wastewater that is disposed of in Class II injection wells across the state. The set of proposed rules before you today is the long-awaited result of that 2013 legislation.

While both Simply Living and Ohio Sustainable Business Council are glad to see regulation of oil and gas waste disposal finally move forward, we believe these rules need to be significantly strengthened in order to comply with Ohio Revised Code Section 1509.22, which states that no one should dispose of oil and gas waste in a way that “causes or could reasonably be anticipated to cause damage or injury to public health or safety or the environment.”

Here are five areas where we believe these proposed rules need drastic improvements.

  1. Lack of information about what is in the oil and gas wastewater being injected

Fracking companies are not required to disclose what chemicals are in the millions of gallons of wastewater generated by frack wells, nor do these proposed rules require any sort of testing of this waste. That means ODNR has no idea what is being injected.

Frack waste is often referred to as “brine,” and these rules continually refer to it as “saltwater.” But according to the EPA, frack waste is full of toxic chemicals, including radioactive substances and forever chemicals under the umbrella of PFAS.

Without knowing what is being injected into a given well, ODNR will be unable to respond to a spill or release of frack waste. They won’t know what kinds of contaminants they are dealing with or how to address it. Accidents and blowouts at injection well sites have happened before in Ohio, and will happen again. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

  • Inadequate setbacks

These proposed rules require setbacks of only 100 feet from private drinking water wells, surface waters, and wetlands. This is completely inadequate for protecting our drinking water and environment. A spill, leak, or explosion would easily travel 100 feet.

By contrast in Ohio, a wind turbine must have a minimum setback of 1,125 feet, not from a structure such as a private well, but from the nearest property line. Surely a frack waste injection well — which handles millions of gallons of toxic, radioactive waste, and carries a risk of leaking, spilling, or blowout — should have a setback of at least that much.

  • Lack of enforcement ability

Under these proposed rules, ODNR would not have the authority to levy fines for violations, nor could they close down habitual violators. If a bad actor is poisoning our water and polluting our environment, we should be able to stop them. Rules are only as good as they can be enforced, and these rules do not have good enforcement mechanisms.

  • No public notice or public participation

The rules as written do not require any public notice when ODNR awards a permit for a Class II injection well. Without public notice, there is no way for neighboring homes or businesses to object or appeal. They only way people can find out if a permit is being awarded in their area is by constantly requesting information from ODNR. This places an undue burden on Ohio citizens, not to mention occupying ODNR personnel who have other things to do than answering constant inquiries about injection well permits.

The only requirement for public notice in these rules is at the time of application for a Class II injection well. However, the applications do not contain enough information fpr concerned citizens to comment on a proposed injection well. ODNR needs to have much more robust procedures that allow people to meaningfully participate in this process.

  • No requirement to cover costs of cleanup and closure

ODNR’s fiscal analysis of these proposed rules does not take into account the expenses incurred by taxpayers for cleanup after a leak, spill, or blowout, or for simply closing the injection well when it has reached the end of its life. Abandoned mines and wells are a hazard across Ohio, and the companies that own them should be required to carry sufficient bonds and insurance to cover the costs of cleanup and closure.

Ohio Revised Code Section 1509.22 requires ODNR to make rules that carry out the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. For all the reasons mentioned above, these proposed rules do not meet those requirements.

ODNR needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with rules that

  • require information about what is in the waste being injected
  • require much larger setbacks
  • include the authority to levy fines and close down bad actors
  • create a much more robust public participation process
  • require oil and gas companies to pay for the costs of cleanup and closure

We urge you to ask ODNR to revise and refile these rules accordingly. The lives, health, and environment of all Ohioans depends on it.

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