Drilling Down

Injection Well May Resume Operations, Protesters Warn

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The new owner of a shuttered Class II injection well along McCartney Road in Coitsville Township could resume operations in the near future, confirms a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Eric Heis, responding by email to a request from The Business Journal related to the status of the Collins #6 well, said that the well permit was transferred after the initial owner’s permit – in this case, D&L Energy – was revoked.

“The well in question was transferred to a new owner after D&L Energy’s permits were revoked, and the new owner expressed interest in operating the well in the future,” Heis said in his email.

The prospect of restarting the well drew protestors near the site Tuesday. They held signs denouncing the use of injection wells as dangerous to the environment and the public.

The bulk of D&L’s assets that included the Collins injection well were purchased by Denver-based Resource Land Holdings LLC through U.S. Bankruptcy Court in November 2013. The Coitsville well is listed as operated by North Star Disposal Services VI LLC, ODNR records show.

Several weeks ago, Heis said, workers began to “plug back” the well so they could comply with ODNR regulations. A plug back operation means that concrete is poured into well to reduce its depth.

More than 200 injection wells operate in Ohio, according to ODNR. They are used to dispose of contaminated wastewater produced from oil and gas exploration activity such as hydraulic fracturing, a process that uses water, sand and chemicals injected at high pressure to release oil and gas the tight shale formations contain.

The Collins well was closed after Gov. John Kasich ordered a moratorium on wastewater injection wells within a radius of five miles from the Northstar #1 well in Youngstown. That well was tied to a series of earthquakes in 2011 after water was injected at high pressure into the basement rock, disrupting a fault line. That well has remained inactive since New Year’s Eve 2011 when a 4.0 magnitude quake hit the Mahoning Valley.

About 25 members of the activist group Frackfree Mahoning Valley rallied yesterday near the site of the well, protesting the possible reactivation of the Collins unit, which is slightly more than seven miles from the Youngstown well.

“Apparently, they’ve pugged it back about 500 feet so that they’re no longer in the basement rock,” said John Williams, who along with others stood along McCartney Road in Coitsville Township to voice their opposition to restarting the well.

Demonstrators were especially concerned about activity at the well site on June 24 when a geyser shot up as workers plugged back the well.

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But ODNR’s Heis said that it’s common for wells to release fluids during a plug-back operation, and that the well’s containment procedures captured all of the liquid.

“Our oil and gas inspector was at the site to witness the approved plug-back operation that produced the event and [to] confirm all fluid was captured by the well containment facilities,” Heis said in his email. “This is not an uncommon occurrence while working downhole, which is one reason why containment facilities are required.”

Numerous steps are involved in bringing a well back into compliance, Heis said, and plugging back is just one. Downhole testing, surface facility construction, and a final Chief’s Order authorizing injection operations are also required before the well could be reactivated.

There are 17 injection wells in Trumbull County and five in Mahoning County. Last year, 32 million barrels of wastewater were injected into Ohio disposal wells, Heis reported.

Activists say that the Collins well falls within the moratorium parameters the state set as they fight to keep the well shut down. They also want to prevent another injection well operation in Weathersfield Township from resuming operations.

“My concern really is for the people,” said the Rev. Monica Beasley-Martin. “My purpose is to sound an alarm, and hopefully people will come together and fight it.”

Frackfree member Jane Spies said it’s been proven that injection wells and hydraulic fracturing in the Mahoning Valley has led to earthquakes. “They don’t know where the faults are,” she said. It’s pretty much gambling.”

The Collins well, she noted, is less than five miles from the Carbon Limestone Landfill well pads in Poland Township operated by Hilcorp Energy Co. In 2014, small earthquakes were detected in the area and evidence strongly suggested that they were triggered by a hydraulic fracturing operation at the site. And in June, several small earthquakes were recorded near a well pad in Lawrence County in western Pennsylvania.

“They just need to stop injection wells in general,” Spies said. “Especially here, since there’s so much seismicity already. If we act proactively, there’s a chance we won’t become like Oklahoma. They’re now the No. 1 state for earthquakes.”

Meanwhile, officials in Coitsville Township want to arrange a meeting with ODNR officials so they can get a grasp on the status of these injection wells. Another injection well, the Khalil #3 just east of the Youngstown corporation limit, is owned by R.E. Disposal Services. Last year, the company submitted a request to ODNR to begin “limited injections” at the site, but the well remains inactive to date.

“There are a lot of questions from the community,” Johnson said. “They’re typical concerns about how these will affect our water, quality of life – so people have a lot of questions.”

No date has been set for a meeting with ODNR officials, Johnson said.

Others have since left the area as a result of what they believe are health and environmental risks associated with oil and gas exploration. Maggie Henry, a former resident of Bessemer, Pa., believes her health has been affected since oil and gas companies drilled in her area and that the Poland quakes did some damage to her house. She has since relocated north of State College, Pa.

“I am a gas refugee,” she declared.

Pictured at top: Sister Mary Cunningham, Jane Spies, Heidi Crock, Rosemary Glod and Steven Brown hold hands and pray on McCartney Road near the site of the injection well in Coitsville Township.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.