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A Citizens’ Audit of Ohio Oil and Gas Waste Disposal Wells

Authors: Nathan Rutz and Melissa English. December 2014

Summary

Authors of Ohio’s oil and gas regulatory framework have systematically removed citizens from the process of regulating and monitoring the industry. From awarding the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) “sole and exclusive authority” over the industry to refusing to allow public hearings on permits, Ohio’s legislature has engineered a system where people don’t matter. As a result, citizens have lost faith in the regulatory process and now work to fill the void by preparing this audit of Ohio’s management of fracking waste disposal through the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.

This report presents a snapshot of just one part of the ODNR’s fracking authority, yet it demonstrates systemic problems that resonate throughout the agency’s handling of all fracking related activity.

The U.S. EPA also owns some blame for this problem. Since ceding authority for underground injection control to the ODNR in 1983, their oversight has been inconsistent, shallow and devoid of substantive criticism, as evidenced by the two most recent audits, from 2005 and 2009, and by failure to release a subsequent audit as of December 12, 2014. As the pace of oil and gas activity and fracking waste disposal increases, so does the need for timely and thorough oversight. The U.S. EPA’s “hands-off” approach has failed to meet this need.

Both the U. S. EPA and the ODNR wield their authority to protect the public interest.

Failure to do their jobs puts public health and natural resources at risk, which is why citizens have stepped in. The Center for Health Environment and Justice, Buckeye Forest Council, and Ohio Sierra Club conducted Citizens’ Hearings on injection wells in Portage and Athens Counties in October 2013, after the U.S. EPA and the ODNR refused to do so. They collected hundreds of pages of testimony from citizens affected by class 2 disposal wells and submitted it to the U.S. EPA. Detailed citizens’ comments included problems with specific wells in their communities. It was citizen research into the issues of these wells which led to the idea of conducting a citizens’ audit of the class 2 disposal wells permitted by the ODNR since the 2009 U.S. EPA audit.

Ohio Citizen Action and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund, with assistance from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, and Buckeye Forest Council have engaged citizen volunteers to review hundreds of permits, well logs, inspection reports and other documents to produce an audit of Ohio’s Class 2 injection wells – something that the U.S. EPA and the ODNR have not been moved to do.

Findings include:

  1. Inadequate oversight by the U.S. EPA;
  2. Inconsistency of practice among the ODNR inspectors;
  3. Non-enforcement of some conditions mandated by a well’s operational permit;
  4. Neglect of well conditions that indicate mechanical problems;
  5. Inconsistency and absence of information in the ODNR’s database;
  6. ODNR disrespect or disdain for public inquiries and requests; and
  7. A correlation between regulatory failure and a revolving door between agency and industry.

The authors of this report recommend that the U.S. EPA suspend the ODNR’s authority to operate the Underground Injection Control program until completing a thorough audit of all of Ohio’s active injection wells and only reinstating that authority if and when the ODNR’s competence and independence from industry influence can be demonstrated.

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