Clients in the News
by Dave O’Brien | Ohio Gas & Oil Magazine | June 5, 2013
PORTAGE CO. — Injection wells that take the waste products of oil and gas drilling and pump it into the earth at depths of several thousand are a safe, effective and well-regulated means of disposing of such material, according to an Ohio oil and gas trade association and well owners.
To give the media a better handle on the matter of injection wells, members of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association recently gave a guided tour of a well in Windham Township, Portage County.
Penny Seipel, vice president of public affairs for OOGA, said the group want to take the “confusion and mysticism” out of injection wells, which she said are stringently regulated by state officials.
Well owner/operator David Ballentine owns six operational injection wells and has a permit for a seventh through his company, B&B Oilfield Service, Inc. He also transports drilling waste under the name Northeast Ohio Oilfield Service Inc.
In business for the past 25 years, he said he employs up to 22 people at any one time — including his wife, one of his two daughters and his son — at his shop on S.R. 88 in Portage County’s Freedom Township.
Ballentine’s well, located on privately-owned property on S.R. 303, is a former oil and gas well that descends to a depth of 3,900 feet. It ceased production in 1985 and was plugged in 1986, he said. Earthen dams prevent spillage from large brown holding tanks hooked to pumps that inject the wastewater deep into the earth. Automatic “murphy” switches measure fluid levels and pressure and can shut down the injection process if a problem arises, Ballentine said.
Leased from the landowners on a yearly basis, the well is monitored electronically for changes in pressure that could signal a problem. Technology contained in an app on Ballentine’s smartphone and a website allows him to check on all his wells anytime he wants, he said.
His trucks are limited to 10 trips per day to the well, only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., and on average deposit 250 barrels of waste per day into the well. No waste produced outside of Ohio is injected into the well, Ballentine said, and the only waste injected is brine from the drilling process — basically, salt water.
David Hill, OOGA vice president and the owner of several injection wells in Guernsey County, said pressure monitoring allows well owners and Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials to monitor for signs of danger in Ohio’s 179 injection wells. A geologist and member of OOGA’s Underground Injection Control work group, Hill said it is nearly impossible for such waste water to rise close enough to the surface to mix with the water table or surface soil.
ODNR regulators utilize a hydrostatic pressure formula to determine if a well is near capacity, Hill said. If a well does exceed the pre-determined pressure, low or high, it is automatically shut down, he said. While regulators are required to visit every well at least once every eight or nine weeks, “in practice they are there every week,” Hill said.
State regulators can revoke a permit anytime for cause, he said, and also won’t let drillers drill in areas prone to seismic activity. He called a series of earthquakes in the Youngstown area in 2011 that were linked by the state to a series of injection wells in the area “an unfortunate incident.”
“As a geologist, I don’t think I could replicate those conditions,” Hill said, adding that “there is not enough hydraulic horsepower on the face of the Earth to create a crack” that could force wastewater thousands of feet up the well and through six layers of steel tubing and concrete surrounding the well head at the surface. Pressure sensors would also give well operators notice before that happened, he said.
More than 11 million barrels of waste were injected into the ground in Ohio in 2011, according to Hill. That’s less than one-half of one percent of all the water injected into the ground in the United States, he said.
“There is not one instance where a Class II injection well has contaminated groundwater,” Hill said.
Hill said Ohio laws on Class II injection wells like the Windham Township well are “at least as stringent” as federal environmental protection laws. The 144,000 Class II injection wells in the United States are safe enough to be located close to agricultural and residential property, and may only accept waste from oil and gas production. That means high volumes of water, with low toxicity, he said.
Hill said he believes some of the fear and unease about injection wells among the public comes from a lack of information. He said a reading of Ohio Senate Bill 315, passed in 2012, “would demystify a lot of the process” for the public.
“Often times, it’s easy to fear the unknown,” he said.
Additional sources on Class II injection wells: U.S. EPA website
Additional information on Ohio Senate Bill 315: Ohio Department of Natural Resources website