Steady Stream of Trucks at North Lima Injection Well

YOUNGSTOWN,Ohio — An injection well in North Lima once owned by defunct D&L Energy Inc. of Youngstown has come to life in a big way, according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The well in Beaver Township, known as Northstar Lucky #4, was drilled and completed in 2012 but never placed in operation until October of last year, records show. On two consecutive days – Sept. 7 and 8 – trucks carrying wastewater were observed discharging their tanks at the well just off state Route 7.

“This is the biggest injection well in Mahoning County,” says Theresa Mills, who runs the Ohio field office of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, an advocacy group based in Falls Church, Va. Mills tracks injection well activity in the state’s Appalachian region and monitors just how much drilling wastewater is handled by these wells.

Based on data ODNR provided her, Mills reports there are five injection wells in operation in Mahoning County, which together accepted 317,803 barrels of contaminated wastewater during the first half of 2016. In all of 2015, Mahoning County’s wells accepted 167,742 barrels of wastewater.

“Mahoning County is on track to reach the 2011 levels of 611,000 barrels a year,” she says.

Class II injection wells are used to dispose of waste byproducts from shale drilling operations, and there are about 200 injection wells operating in Ohio. Last year, Ohio accepted a record 28.8 million barrels of wastewater, despite an overall slowdown of drilling activity in the region and country.

During the first half of 2016, the North Lima well alone took in 248,384 barrels of wastewater – or 78% of Mahoning County’s total, records show. Of that number, 215,492 barrels were transported from out of state. Four other wells – three Brineaway wells in Smith Township and a well owned by White Energy in Green Township – accounted for the rest, according to Mills.

The North Lima well was first awarded a permit to accept wastewater May 24, 2011. But work on the well was placed on hold after one of D&L’s wells, the Northstar #1 in Youngstown, was found to have caused a series of earthquakes that year that culminated in a 4.0 magnitude quake that shook the Mahoning Valley on New Year’s Eve.

Gov. John Kasich ordered D&L’s operations shut down and imposed a moratorium on injection well activity within a five-mile radius of the Northstar #1 well. Work was allowed to proceed on the North Lima well several months later, according to records, because the site is about 11 miles south of the Northstar #1 well.

Still, the well was never activated because D&L Energy was forced to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its president and CEO, Ben Lupo, was charged with violating the Clean Water Act. Lupo ordered an employee of an affiliated company to illegally discharge wastewater into a sewer drain on company property, which led to contamination of parts of the Mahoning River. Lupo is serving a 28-month sentence in federal prison.

Denver-based Resource Land Holdings LLC purchased some of D&L’s assets out of bankruptcy in 2013, and today operates the North Lima well and owns another asset, the Northstar Collins #6 injection well in Coitsville. An affiliated company, Bobcat Energy Resources, which lists offices in Canfield, operates the North Lima well, according to its website. Thus far, there have been no instances or major complaints with the injection well.

According to ODNR spokesman Eric Heis, the well became active in October 2015 and is taking in wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations in Ohio and out-of-state. He also confirms that the owners are working on a plan for a surface facility for Collins #6 in Coitsville to redevelop that well.

Last month, activists from the group FrackFree Mahoning Valley gathered across the street from the Coitsville well to protest its possible activation.

The message left for Bobcat Energy’s director of business development, Nicholas Paparodis, at the Canfield office was not returned. During D&L Energy’s bankruptcy, a man by the name of Nicholas Paparodis served as the company’s president and CEO after Lupo was forced to resign.

While the amount of wastewater trucked to Mahoning County injection wells increased during the first six months of 2016, injection well activity has decreased substantially in Trumbull County, records show.

Just six injection wells of 16 in the county reported activity through June 30, Mills says, accounting for 276,942 barrels of wastewater. By comparison, Trumbull County accepted 1.9 million barrels of wastewater in all of 2015.

Mills attributes the decline to the number of injection wells that shut down across the county this year. Warren-based KDA, for example, was forced to close five of its wells in Vienna Township after pollutants from one of the storage tanks seeped into a private pond and stream. KDA has since sold some of its assets to other parties, including an injection well next to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna that the new owner wants to activate.

Oklahoma-based KTCA purchased that well and has applied for a permit to inject at the site, ODNR’s Heis says. “We have completed many thorough inspections on the KTCA well in Vienna,” he replied in an email.

On Sept. 7, ODNR’s chief of its oil and gas division , Richad Simmers, authorized KTCA to begin wastewater injection at the site, noting that the well “is not in violation of the law, does not jeopardize public safety, and is in accordance with good conservation practices.”

Meanwhile, American Water Management Services’ two injection wells in Weathersfield Township remain shuttered on the orders of ODNR two years ago after a small tremor was detected near the deeper well, says Ron Klingle, chairman of Avalon Holdings Corp., the parent of AWMS.

Klingle says the monitors picked up seismic background that registered a magnitude of 2.1, not strong enough for humans to feel. Other injection operations elsewhere in the state have been allowed to proceed despite seismic levels that exceed those recorded at the AWMS site, he says.

American Water Management Services filed a complaint against ODNR two weeks ago, claiming the agency had no right to shut the operation down. “We did nothing wrong,” Klingle says, noting that volumes and pressures were well within safety limits. “It was supposed to be a temporary suspension, and that temporary suspension is now two years old.”

American Energy Associates Inc. – no affiliation with American Water Management Services – PAC Development, and Heckman Water Resources operate the six wells in Trumbull County that reported wastewater injection during the first six months of 2016.

“I’d say we’re cautiously optimistic,” says Bob Barnett, president and CEO of American Energy Associates Inc. in Cortland. “It’s been a rough year, but it’s been picking up here lately and we’ve had to turn work away.”

American Energy operates a well in Greene Township and has drilled another in Brookfield that is inactive, Barnett says. Most of the shale water injected has come from energy companies such as Rex Energy, which is active in the Utica shale.

“It’s kind of cutthroat right now,” Barnett says. “These energy companies want you to lower your prices and we’re down as low as we can go.”

Barnett stresses that his company’s wells are safe, and there’s never been an incident with the Greene site since it opened two years ago. “We have a pressure recorder that records the pressures we’re running, so we know we’re operating within our limits.”

Problems such as large earthquakes occur when companies increase both volumes and pressures in the well. “When you over-inject, you’re going to cause problems,” he says. That was the case with D&L, and more recently in Oklahoma, where officials suspect injection well activity triggered a 5.8 magnitude earthquake.

“We’ve monitored it and found a happy medium,” Barnett says. “You can’t get greedy. You let it do what it’s supposed to do. If you don’t, you’ll have problems.”

Pictured: A truck delivers brine wastewater to the Northstar Lucky #4 well in North Lima.

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