Radiation monitors like this one at the McKean landfill in Pennsylvania generally won’t register radiation from alpha particles that can be contained in waste from fracked wells, note critics. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
While a recent federal study singles out Ohio for limited information requirements in permitting for fracking wastewater disposal, advocates in the state say the issue is much broader.
Ohio requires fewer details about the liquid fracking wastes going into its underground wells than other states do, says the General Accounting Office. Environmental groups say the situation is even worse because the state’s inspection and enforcement practices are lax.
Meanwhile, “solid” waste from shale oil and gas operations raises concerns. Ohio law already exempts tons of deep shale drilling waste from landfill regulations meant to protect the public from elevated levels of heavy metals and radioactivity.
Now the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to allow “beneficial reuse” of those shale drill cuttings, including on roads and in wetland restoration.
A drilling rig in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. (Photo by WCN 24.7 via Creative Commons)
Petroleum backers say a new job survey makes the case for why Illinois should be doing more to expand drilling, particularly fracking, in the state.
The oil and gas industry has created 263,700 jobs in Illinois, according to a study released by the American Petroleum Institute Tuesday that lists direct, indirect and induced jobs created, as well as vendors with contracts with the industry, in each state.
In Illinois, 932 businesses are part of the oil and gas supply chain, the study says, supporting $33.3 billion, or five percent, of the state’s economy.
American Petroleum Institute senior economic adviser Rayola Dougher and Illinois Petroleum Council executive director Jim Watson said the study shows why state regulators should be doing more to facilitate the launch of high volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Groves Woods in Trumbull County, Ohio, — in the northern area of the Utica hotbed of shale drilling — is among dozens of natural area preserves owned by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History because of its ecological habitats. (Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski)
Conservation experts say fracking and other shale gas activities can add to the dangers faced by Ohio’s rare species.
Yet as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) allows more and more natural gas activities in the state, its natural heritage program remains dramatically scaled back. That limits ODNR’s ability to identify and protect important habitats in sparsely surveyed areas.
Additionally, Ohio law exempts oil and natural gas activities from certain environmental requirements. It also allows massive water withdrawals for fracking and other activities. These and other factors can compound conservation threats.
Last Friday, experts at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s annual conservation symposium spoke about a wide range of threats faced by birds, bats, butterflies, mussels and amphibians — one hundred years after the last known passenger pigeon died in Ohio.
These billboards are at the center of an Ohio lawsuit against a local man who opposes fracking and related activities.
A lawsuit filed by an Ohio company last month seeks to remove two anti-fracking billboards near a wastewater site it operates.
While the case is a test of free speech, critics say it also reflects a broader reluctance for businesses and regulatory agencies in the state to adequately inform citizens about shale gas activities and address their concerns.
Fracking is the use of chemically treated water and sand to crack and prop open rock so oil and gas can flow out. Fracking a horizontal shale well can take millions of gallons of water. In Ohio, most of the wastewater that can’t be reused goes into underground injection wells.
Ohio’s regulatory environment is allowing rapid expansion of the shale gas industry. The state’s natural gas production nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013. And shale wastewater injection for 2013 was up more than 2 million barrels from the previous year.
Critics say the system fast-tracks permits for activities related to shale gas at the expense of public comment and citizen input.
Crews flare gas at a drilling site near Kalkaska, Michigan in July 2013. (AP Photo / Detroit News, Dale Young)
In an effort to address ongoing concerns about hydraulic fracturing development in Michigan, regulators here have proposed a series of changes to the state’s permitting instructions over the natural-gas extraction method.
But those with concerns — largely from the environmental community — over how permits are issued and what information is available to the public say the state is not going far enough and that proposed changes favor industry interests.
The rules would affect high-volume forms of fracking that use more than 100,000 gallons of “primary carrier” fluids.
The groups’ concerns reflect several categories of the process: That chemicals used aren’t required to be disclosed before drilling; that water-quality testing only takes place involving high-volume withdrawals; that the state’s system for reporting water withdrawals is not set up for operations that could require tens of millions of gallons; and that statutory rules for pooling resources below the surface should not apply to natural gas deposits in shale formations.
“From what we’ve read in the proposed rules, they’re not actually doing anything that makes fracking safer, but making some changes to make people feel better about it,” said Rita Chapman, clean water program director for the Michigan Sierra Club. “Some of them go backwards, even.”
This Mount Simon sandstone core shows one of the types of rock used for deep injection wells in Ohio. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
The oil and gas boom made possible by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of horizontal wells has also led to dramatic growth in Ohio’s injection well disposal industry.
The state now has more than 200 active injection wells for oil and gas waste, as shown on an updated map released this month by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Over 16 million barrels of wastewater were pumped into Ohio rock formations in 2013 — an increase of more than 2 million barrels from the previous year. In the oil and gas industry one barrel equals 42 gallons.
M3 Midstream’s Harrison Hub fractionation plant in eastern Ohio. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
Controversy continues over the rapid growth of high volume oil and gas operations made possible by horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
But at its “State of the Play” event at Stark State College, officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) had only enthusiasm for the state’s growing shale gas industry.
The state’s natural gas production nearly doubled last year, mostly as a result of horizontal wells in the Utica Shale in eastern Ohio. Market shifts have made that formation’s “wet gas” particularly profitable.
Such wet gas has a relatively high proportion of other light hydrocarbons in addition to methane. Those other hydrocarbons can be separated out, processed and sold to make plastics and other petrochemical products.
“These are very valuable products,” said Rick Simmers, Chief of ODNR’s Division of Oil & Gas Resources. “And they make the Utica unique among shale plays in the entire nation and, for that matter, in the world.”
Fracking means more truck traffic on roads like this one in Carroll County. Photo by Susy Morris via Creative Commons.
Even before the most recent recession, Carroll County in rural eastern Ohio was struggling. Employment prospects were sparse and young people were fleeing for opportunities elsewhere. Then came 2011 and arrival of the shale industry, giving the local economy an injection of jobs and the attendant financial benefits an influx of new business creates.
Though shale development has changed the county’s fortunes, the transformation from ghost town to boom town has been far from smooth, according to a study released in April by nonprofit research organization Policy Matters Ohio. Months after the study was made public, there are still lingering questions about whether the cultural, environmental and public health costs of fracking outweigh the economic benefits.
“This was a region struggling for a long time, so fracking has been a shot in the arm,” said Amanda Woodrum, report author and Policy Matters researcher. “But the story does not end there.”
Illinois native Sandra Steingraber has taken her fracking fight to New York. Photo by Dale Willman.
High-profile environmental activist, biologist and writer Sandra Steingraber – whom Rolling Stone dubbed the “Toxic Avenger” – gained her love of science and ecology in the Midwest, growing up in central Illinois and studying English and biology in Illinois before earning a biology doctorate at the University of Michigan.
Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring motivated Steingraber to “leave the lab,” as she says, and become an environmental activist and watchdog, as well as an author and poet. She survived bladder cancer — which she suspects was linked to water pollution — and gained international acclaim for her book Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, overlaying cancer data and federal toxic release statistics.
In 2011 Steingraber won the prestigious Heinz Award. By then she was living in upstate New York, where high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for natural gas had exploded on the scene. Steingraber used the $100,000 prize to start the grassroots organization New Yorkers Against Fracking, a movement that soon spread to other states and launched her as an international leader on the issue.
Steingraber has spoken out against the controversial fracking regulations in her home state of Illinois, and traveled to Europe to meet with people dealing with drilling in their communities.
She spent a few days in late June at Carnegie Mellon University with a delegation of reporters convened by the Society of Environmental Journalists. The group heard from industry sources, academics, scientists, landowners and activists about the ways fracking has played out in the Marcellus shale, and what the future may hold.
Main Street in Vienna, Johnson County, Illinois where voters will decide on an anti-fracking ballot measure this spring. (Photo by J. Stephen Conn via Creative Commons)
“Shall the people’s right to local self-government be asserted by Johnson County to ban corporate fracking as a violation of their rights to health, safety and a clean environment?”
The question, which will show up on the March primary ballot in the southern Illinois county, is an example of an increasingly popular tactic among fracking opponents: trying to assert local control over a practice that in most cases is not specifically addressed by federal or state laws.
The move is especially significant in Illinois, where state regulators are refining fracking rules that critics say are way too lenient.
On December 3, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources closed its 50-day public comment period on the proposed state regulations. The agency received more than 20,000 comments, the bulk of them reportedly opposed to the regulations or to fracking as a whole.