Ohio is becoming the dumping ground of the Midwest for fracking wastewater. And guess which of Ohio’s 88 counties is going to be getting the most — Athens County.
This is made possible by the opening of an injection well at Torch by S&H Partners. It will more than double the amount of wastewater brought into Athens County to something in excess of 6 million gallons a year.
In 2013, 16 million gallons of fracking waste was dumped in Ohio. When the figures are added up for this year, the total is likely to be least 20 million.
What disturbs me most is that half of this wastewater is coming from out of state. Most of it comes from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. You probably can guess why. Regulation of wastewater disposal is less rigorous in Ohio than in those two states.
A study of fracking wastewater disposal in eight states by the Government Accounting Office said: “Ohio has the worst fracking waste disposal process of any state of the eight studied.”
A major problem in Ohio is that disclosure of the chemicals in the fracking compounds is not required. In the other states studied it is.
The companies claim the composition of the compounds is a trade secret. This is not appropriate because the compounds could contaminate drinking water. How much wastewater disposal will affect drinking water is not known.
There is some anecdotal evidence that it does, but this is only in a few instances. What we also do not know much about is how to clean up a water source that has been contaminated by fracking wastewater.
The problem comes when disposal wells leak. If properly constructed they usually don’t leak, but it is obvious that regular inspection of wells is needed. Ohio does not seem to have enough inspectors to achieve this.
The present situation is the result of the failure of the legislature and the Department of Natural Resources to deal with the issue.
Many legislators have made it clear that they consider the interests of the oil and gas industry and the campaigns contributions from that industry more important than clean water for people 75 miles away from Columbus.
The Department of Natural Resources is on record as saying that letters from perhaps a hundred or more citizens count less than the words of one oil and gas executive.
Even if we are 75 miles away, we citizens deserve better than this.
Guido H. Stempel III is a distinguished professor emeritus of journalism at Ohio University. Professor Stempel has a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Wisconsin and a master's in journalism from Indiana University. He has been on the Ohio University faculty since 1965 and served as director and graduate chairman of the journalism school, director of the Bush Research Endowment, and director of the Scripps Survey Research Center. He is a columnist for The Athens Messenger and The Highland County Press.