Ohio is the latest state to close injection wells used to dispose of wastewater after the state experienced several minor earthquakes near Youngstown last weekend, according to an article by Daniel Gilbert for the Wall Street Journal.
The wells accommodate a growing amount of wastewater left over from hydraulic fracturing, and the decision to close the wells could spark political debate about the practice.
Ohio regulators ordered the closure of the Youngstown well, D&L Energy Inc., to stop injecting wastewater after the state was hit with a 2.7-magnitute earthquake on Dec. 24. When a 4.0-magnitude earthquake struck again that evening, the state declared a moratorium on all injections within a five-mile radius of the well.
Northeast Ohio has no known history of seismic activity, and 2011 was the first year that a majority of the waste injected underground was from out of state. The natural-gas industry, however, has no evidence these activities are causing earthquakes.”
While it will be difficult to prove that deep well injection is causing earth quakes, a prohibition on the technology would be a victory. Prior to the 1970s series of environmental reforms, it was common practice to take barges of garbage and hazardous waste out to sea and dump them. Massive quantities of sewage continued to be discharge directly into water bodies as late as the 1990s. Today we view these practices as absurd. They are from the environmental dark ages.
It is hard to believe that in 2012, a valid and legal solution to wastewater disposal is still deep well injection. The “pump it so far down that our great grandchildren will have to deal with it” attitude is alive and well. The disturbing thing is that the technology for treatment and reuse of these waters is available. Legislation needs to demand recycling and reduced environmental impact from the drilling and hydro-fracturing process. If it drives up the cost of natural gas so be it. It is a cost we have to pay.
In fairness to deep well injection sites, the waters which they receive are required to meet certain criteria. The sites are not just dug any ware. There is a permitting process which requires full scale geologic studies. However, no one could argue that the oil field exemptions for disposal of wastewater in this fashion are extremely lenient. The difference is especially clear when compared to the wastewater disposal options available to other industries.