Drilling Down

Work Underway at Injection Well Idled by Quake

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Work is underway at a Class II injection well site in Coitsville Township that was drilled, but then idled after a 4.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the Mahoning Valley more than seven years ago.

On Friday morning, backhoes and construction workers were busy at the well site along McCartney Road, preparing the area for further development.

“The Northstar Collins No. 6 well is listed as drilled, and the old permit has expired,” said Adam Schroeder, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Oil and Gas Division. “We’re having ongoing conversations with the owners and are awaiting an application for a new permit, if that’s the direction they want to go with the property.”

Schroeder said it’s likely that Bobcat Energy will apply for a permit to use the site for “oil and gas activity” once it is prepared.

When contacted by a reporter, a representative from Bobcat Energy hung up the phone.

The Collins No. 6 well was drilled but never activated. That’s because an injection well in Youngstown, then owned by now-defunct D&L Energy, was tied to a series of earthquakes that shook the region beginning in March 2011. On New Year’s Eve of that year, a magnitude 4.0 quake that officials say was triggered by the Youngstown well shook the Mahoning Valley.

Gov. John Kasich ordered the well shut down and declared a moratorium on further injection well activity within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well. That moratorium has since been lifted.

The Coitsville well, once owned by D&L but now owned by Canfield-based Bobcat, was drilled in 2011 but never activated, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

In 2016, ODNR confirmed that Bobcat was working on a plan to develop a surface facility at the site and start that well. Since then, the area has become a gathering point for activists who oppose the operation of Class II injection wells in their communities.

“What concerns me is that the Coitsville well was initially drilled into the Pre-Cambria rock,” said Teresa Mills, who runs the Ohio field office for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, an advocacy group based in Falls Church, Va. Mills tracks injection well activity in the Appalachian region. That Pre-Cambria rock is about the same depth as the ill-fated Northstar No. 1 well that was connected to the earthquakes seven years ago.

“The Mahoning Valley is the poster child of where not to place an injection well,” Mills said.

According to ODNR, the Coitsville well has since been plugged back to a shallower depth.

Most of the wells that have been drilled in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, she pointed out, remain closed because of operator negligence or poor geology. For example, Mills said the Highland No. 5 injection well in Brookfield operated for about a month, only to be shut-in earlier this year because of problems.

The Hray Well in Brookfield, which was drilled several years ago, is also shut-in, she said. “I see a lot of similarities in these problematic wells.”

Indeed, of the 24 injection wells drilled throughout Trumbull County, just eight are reported as active, Mills said.

If activated, Coitsville would be the second injection well operated by Bobcat in Mahoning County. The company also operates an injection well in North Lima that was owned by D&L.

According to ODNR records, the North Lima well accepted 628,994 barrels of wastewater in 2018 – 612,845 barrels of which came from out-of-state. By comparison, the four other injection wells operating in Mahoning County collectively accepted just 88,039 barrels.

In Trumbull County, the eight wells there accepted just more than 2 million barrels in 2018.

Bobcat has also applied for a permit to drill a new injection well in Hubbard Township in Trumbull County, according to ODNR records.

Class II injection wells are used to store contaminated wastewater that is produced during oil and gas exploration – especially from a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That process uses large volumes of water, sand and chemicals that are injected into the well in order to fracture tight shale formations and unleash trapped oil and gas molecules.

The most common method of disposing fracking wastewater in Ohio is through Class II injection wells. At last count, there were more than 200 of these wells in operation across the state.

“Injection volume in Ohio has gone up every year since 2011, and I’m just not sure how much more our strata can take,” Mills said. “We’re into the billions of gallons now.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.