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.
FirstEnergy’s Lake Shore plant, viewed from Cleveland’s Shoreway. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
FirstEnergy’s plan to gut most of its Ohio energy efficiency programs comes just as the company has ramped up state and federal efforts to prop up markets for its power plants.
The news comes against the backdrop of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which seeks to curb carbon emissions.
Without energy efficiency and renewable energy, FirstEnergy and other power plant owners may have to make huge investments to comply.
Critics say the utility is overly focused on short-term financial gain, which consumers will pay for in the long run.
“This is about selling more electricity,” said Rob Kelter, an attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC). “And they want the market price of electricity to be higher.”
Ohio SB 310 has already made it hard to finance any new solar projects in the state similar in scale to the Melink solar array at the Cincinnati Zoo. Photo by Kathiann M. Kowalski.
By the time Ohio’s energy law freeze took effect last week, the new law had already caused a significant setback for the state’s solar energy sector.
Ohio’s market for solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) dropped dramatically after Senate Bill 310 passed this spring and has not rebounded since. Yet official state reports won’t reflect that and other changes for some time.
The lag means the Energy Mandates Study Commission set up by SB 310 could wind up using unreliable data to evaluate compliance costs for the state’s energy mandates. The Ohio Senate’s half of its 12 voting members was named on Tuesday.
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.
(Photo by Toyota UK via Creative Commons)
Electric cars may still be somewhat of a novelty in the U.S., but employers across the country are beginning to install charging infrastructure at the office as a perk for workers with electricity-fueled transportation.
The charging stations are also seen by electric vehicle advocates as a way to encourage other drivers to make the switch from gasoline.
Drive Electric Ohio is an initiative helmed by nonprofit Clean Fuels Ohio to keep the state at the forefront of this technology as more electric cars roll off assembly lines at lower price points.
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.
A proposal by FirstEnergy would essentially guarantee a buyer for power from its Sammis power plant near Stratton, Ohio, and other facililties. (Photo by Chris Dilts via Creative Commons)
FirstEnergy says a proposed deal between its regulated Ohio utilities and their unregulated generation affiliate would create a windfall for ratepayers.
However, the utility has been opaque about releasing information that could shed light on this claim.
Meanwhile, environmental and consumer advocates continue to criticize the proposal as a “bailout” for aging power plants that can’t compete on the free market, undermining competition at ratepayers’ expense.
FirstEnergy wants the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to approve a power purchase agreement between its regulated Ohio distribution utilities and their unregulated generation affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.
Under the agreement, the utilities would buy all the electricity from certain plants. The 15-year contract would cover the W.H. Sammis coal plant in Stratton, Ohio, which began operations in 1959, as well as the 36-year-old Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio. The plan would also cover FirstEnergy’s share of two 1950s-era coal plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation.
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.”
The University of Dayton prioritizes clean energy, divesting from fossil fuels and focusing research on alternatives like algae. Photo courtesy of University of Dayton.
The University of Dayton is divesting interests in coal and other fossil fuel companies from its $670 million investment portfolio.
The move by Ohio’s largest Catholic university is one of the latest steps in a growing movement to use divestment as a way to address climate change and promote social justice.
To implement the new policy, the University is first divesting its domestic holdings in large coal and fossil fuel companies. After that, it will unload various foreign investments and then restrict future investments in private equity or hedge funds involving fossil fuels.
“For us it really is a university commitment around environmental sustainability, human rights, and our religious mission,” explained University of Dayton President Daniel J. Curran.
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.”