EARTHWORKS

Disclosure of ‘Fracking’ Chemicals not Complete

Ohio's drilling toxics disclosure proposal comes up short

Columbus Dispatch | Spencer Hunt

November 21, 2011
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State regulators say they are ready to oversee an expected onslaught of drilling by energy companies eager to tap vast quantities of oil and gas buried deep in Ohio’s Utica shale.

Regulators point to proposed standards that companies would have to meet to safely drill oil and gas wells. The plan covers everything from which steel pipes would have to be used to construct the wells to what to do if a drill bores into an old mine shaft.

“Any company that’s coming into Ohio and hasn’t had a permit from us before, they can look at this and know what they have to do,” said Rick Simmers, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ oil and gas enforcement supervisor.

But it’s what the proposed standards don’t address that has environmental advocates complaining that the state is clearing a path for drilling at the expense of other safeguards.

For example, the state won’t ask drilling companies to disclose all the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” or subject them to mandatory water-pollution tests.

“The public needs the certainty of knowing that they will be protected,” said Jack Shaner, lobbyist with the Ohio Environmental Council. “That ought to be the first concern here.”

Concern isn’t limited to the environment.

County and township officials across Ohio worry that increased truck traffic from drilling will damage rural roads and that they won’t have enough money to make repairs.

“Some of our township roads weren’t built to handle this kind of truck traffic and the volume of this traffic,” said Matthew DeTemple, director of the Ohio Township Association.

Many of the questions center on fracking, a process in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are injected deep underground to shatter the shale and free buried oil and gas.

The process has been used in more than 3,800 natural-gas wells drilled into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale since 2005. Officials hope Ohio’s Utica shale will host a similar boom and create thousands of jobs.

But advocates fear fracking chemicals will pollute the soil, groundwater and drinking water.

Ohio is among a handful of states, including Wyoming and Pennsylvania, that make hydraulic-fracturing contractors file documents showing the chemicals they use.

But a review of documents posted on the agency’s website shows that not every chemical is listed. Of the 84 fracturing products listed, 11 contained at least one ingredient that was kept secret by the companies as a “proprietary compound.”

Identified chemicals include napthalene, which destroys red blood cells, and ethylene glycol, which can damage the kidneys, nervous system, lungs and heart.

Nadia Steinzor, regional organizer for the Washington, D.C.-based Earthworks advocacy group, said everything that’s sent underground should be reported. She said the documents that are provided don’t show how much of these compounds are injected into the ground.

“Altogether, they are very limited,” she said.

Shaner said the state also should require routine groundwater and well testing around drill sites. Ohio requires tests within a 300 feet of wells drilled in urban areas, but there is no such requirement for wells in rural areas.

Heather Cantino, chairwoman of the Buckeye Forest Council, said the state also should bar companies from using open pits as storage areas for drilling wastes. The practice threatens groundwater, she said.

Where roads are concerned, DeTemple said many township and county officials already are signing road-use maintenance agreements with large drilling companies. Under the terms of these agreements, the companies agree to upgrade and maintain the roads and bridges that lead to their wells.

He and Lloyd MacAdams, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Region 11, said they hope to create a regulation in which Natural Resources officials will require road-repair plans before granting permits to drill shale wells.

Tom Tugend, a deputy chief at Natural Resources, and Simmers said the agency is weighing these issues and might propose more changes to its rules.

Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said energy companies likely would oppose any plan that ties road maintenance to drilling permits.

“It’s regulatory overreach,” Stewart said.

As for chemical reporting, Simmers said Natural Resources might have to ask lawmakers to change state law before the agency could require more complete reporting and water-pollution monitoring. In the meantime, Tugend said many energy companies already test groundwater and drinking-water wells and recycle drilling fluids instead of using pits.

“Right now in Ohio, these companies are doing that,” he said.

Ron Whitmire, spokesman for Houston-based EnerVest, said the company recycles drilling fluids and tests water within 1,500 feet of its shale wells.

Stewart said his organization wouldn’t object to full disclosure of fracking chemicals but said drillers might have a different view.

Some state lawmakers, including state Rep. Dave Hall, R-Millersburg, say Ohio’s standards already are tough.

Hall, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said many rules were contained in a 2010 oil and gas law he helped pass.

“Ohio has some of the strongest standards in the country,” Hall told a Holmes County landowners group on Tuesday. “We’re making sure we’ll protect land and water for future generations.”

Dispatch managing editor Alan Miller contributed to this report.

shunt@dispatch.com

Tagged with: utica shale, regulations, public health, ohio, hydraulic fracturing, fracking, disclosure

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