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ODNR has made right call on wells

March 19, 2012
The Herald-Star

Ohioans ought to be very skeptical about claims briny wastewater injected into deep wells can cause earthquakes. Such geologic disturbances involve massive amounts of force, after all.

Still, state Department of Natural Resources officials are right to increase oversight of injection wells. In some ways, such facilities are of more concern environmentally than wells drilled to produce natural gas and oil.

Millions of gallons of waste fluid used in production wells, typically during the hydraulic fracturing process, must be disposed of once they are pumped out of the wells. Drilling companies often use injection wells for the purpose.

A few months ago, an injection well near Youngstown was blamed for several small earthquakes in that region. ODNR officials have said they believe the facility "almost certainly" caused the tremors.

That is one reason the agency plans to increase oversight over injection wells. In addition, rules governing them are being altered.

For example, injection of wastewater into Precambrian rock formations no longer will be permitted. Better monitoring will be required at injection wells. It will include information on pressure within the holes as well as on the composition of fluids pumped down them.

Ohio is poised to reap enormous economic benefits from the just-beginning boom in gas and oil drilling. State government and residents certainly want to cooperate with the industry.

But as Gov. John Kasich emphasized last month in his State of the State speech in Steubenville, that does not mean failing to be good stewards of the environment. The ODNR's decision to watch injection wells more closely seems to be an example of how the governor plans to implement that philosophy.

Again, there are excellent reasons to doubt the earthquake theory regarding injection wells. But ODNR officials are right to step up monitoring and regulation of such facilities.

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