Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Fracturing by any other name...

Let me get this straight: people are opposed to wind turbines being sited near them because they don't like the way they look or the swishing sound they make. I guess they prefer fires and oil spills in the Gulf resulting from oil drilling or fracking-related earthquakes in the Midwest? And what about the greenhouse has emissions?

The oil and gas industries are running some very expensive PR ads on television an in major newspapers these days. Shoring up their image in the face of harsh realities and the threat posed by the emerging offshore wind industry.(GW)

Ohio Shuts Wells Following Quakes

By Daniel Gilbert
Wall Street Journal
JANUARY 3, 2012

Ohio became the latest state to take action on the possible link between seismic activity and wells used to dispose of waste water from oil and gas production when state officials ordered a halt to the practice near Youngstown this weekend after several minor earthquakes.

The wells, known as injection wells, have been proliferating in Ohio to accommodate growing volumes of waste water left over from hydraulic fracturing, which involves blasting water, sand and chemicals underground to break apart dense layers of rock to free up oil and gas.

The state's move could stoke the political debate about hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, a technique that has sparked an energy boom in several states but also concerns from environmental advocates.

The decision also highlights a controversy surrounding the exporting of fracking waste water from one state to another. More than half of the fluid injected at the Youngstown well came from Pennsylvania, said Andy Ware, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Ohio regulators previously asked the company operating the Youngstown well, D&L Energy Inc., to stop injecting waste water after a 2.7-magnitude earthquake Dec. 24. But on Saturday evening, officials declared a moratorium on all injections within a five-mile radius of the well after another, 4.0-magnitude earthquake earlier in the day.

There have been 11 small temblors around the well since March, roiling the rustbelt region of northeast Ohio, which has no known history of seismic activity.

"While we couldn't say for sure that there's a direct causation between the injection well and the earthquakes, we thought it better to be overly cautious," Mr. Ware said.

Arkansas regulators last year declared a moratorium on injection wells in the vicinity of a series of earthquakes, and in 2010 researchers at Southern Methodist University also found a link between injection wells in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and nearby quakes.

The natural-gas industry has said there is no evidence their activities are causing earthquakes and that injection wells are the safest way of disposing of waste water.

"I can't wait to see the results," Ben Lupo, chief executive of D&L Energy, said in an interview last month about tests being performed to determine if the operation of his company's well caused the earthquakes.

"I really want to know if it is, which I doubt very much." Mr. Lupo didn't respond to a request for comment Monday.

Ohio last year permitted the most such wells since 1988, and 2011 also marked the first year that a majority of the waste injected underground in the state came from out of state, notably from Pennsylvania, which is in the midst of a drilling boom, Ohio officials say.

Pennsylvania doesn't prohibit injection wells, but officials there say the state has limited geologic formations that are suitable for them. Pennsylvania has seven wells that can receive waste; Ohio has permitted 194.

Drilling companies operating in Pennsylvania had been disposing of 95% of their liquid waste at treatment plants until April, when the state's governor called on them to stop over concern the facilities weren't adequately removing contaminants before discharging them into waterways.

This, Ohio officials say, has prompted companies to truck their waste water over the state line.

Residents of northeast Ohio are hoping that drilling will reverse the region's economic fortunes, which have been in decline since steel mills closed a generation ago.

But receiving waste from other states doesn't go over well in communities such as Hubbard Township, a mile from the Pennsylvania line. "It's too toxic to discharge into the ground in Pennsylvania, but it's OK to discharge into the ground in Ohio," said Fred Hanley, a Hubbard Township official.

Mr. Hanley has filed objections with state regulators to a proposed waste water well in the township, which would operate behind a car-repair business and an ice cream parlor. Citing environmental and economic concerns, he has written Ohio Gov. John Kasich to ask for a moratorium on such wells until their impact is studied further.

In Mahoning County, which encompasses Hubbard, the volume of waste injected from out of state rose more than 400% between March and September, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of state data.

In adjacent Trumbull County, companies injected nearly 800% more out-of-state waste in that same period.

The Ohio Oil and Gas Association says injecting the waste underground is the safest way to dispose of it.

But the association worries that the surge in waste water from Pennsylvania will make it difficult for in-state producers to get rid of their waste and that their disposal costs will be increased, said Tom Stewart, the association's executive vice president.


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