WASHINGTON — Despite a history marked with fracking catastrophes, Ohio still wants to retain oversight of its hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal industry.
Rick Simmers, chief of the state’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources, testified Wednesday in Washington, D.C., against any federal oversight of fracking and wastewater disposal.
But the state has a less-than-stellar history with the business of fracking, including a dozen earthquakes and at least 200,000 gallons of illegally dumped fracking wastewater.
The most recent incident was in January, when it was revealed that an Ohio businessman was allegedly dumping of hundreds of thousands of gallons of fracking wastewater into a storm sewer in Youngstown that leads to the Mahoning River and eventually to public water sources in Beaver County.
Ben Lupo of Poland, Ohio, Michael Guesman, of Cortland, Ohio, and Hardrock Excavating LLC were each accused of illegally dumping the wastewater on multiple occasions. They have since been federally charged, each with one count of violating the Clean Water Act.
The dumping took place from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources received an anonymous tip and witnessed the illegal dumping at a facility on Salt Springs Road, which houses both D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating, the Youngstown-based company owned by Lupo.
Test results from the scene showed the presence of several hazardous pollutants in the wastewater, including benzene and toluene, the indictment said. Due to a communication breakdown between Ohio and Pennsylvania, several municipal plants downstream in Pennsylvania were not notified of the dumping, including the Beaver Falls and Midland municipal water authorities.
The department has pointed out that D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating both had state permits issued by Simmers’ division, which the Ohio EPA revoked after the Jan. 31 incident.
Simmers used that incident during Wednesday’s hearing as an example of his agency’s good work in cooperation with state and federal law enforcement.
“If it was not for the on-the-ground efforts of ODNR’s oil and gas inspectors, this criminal and environmentally threatening illegal activity of dumping oilfield waste directly into the Mahoning River could still be occurring,” he said. “Only with the proper resources and experienced staff could this type of action have been executed so swiftly.”
But illegal dumping isn’t the state’s only problem.
Lupo’s company D&L Energy also operated the Class II injection well that was linked to a 4.0-magnitude earthquake in Youngstown in 2011. A preliminary report released in March 2012 by ODNR concluded that about 11 other earthquakes in the Youngstown area were induced by the same injection well.
In November, Ohio began issuing its first new permits for injection wells since the 2011 earthquakes, when Gov. John Kasich ordered a temporary moratorium.
Experts have said that in the case of the injection wells, induced seismicity is possible. Fluid can migrate into nearby fractures and fault zones, which relieves pressure inside the fault and allows slippage to occur, Mark Engle, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist, has said.
The testimony comes on the heels of a call to action in March by a coalition of nearly 200 environmental groups and individual residents, who petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct an investigation and audit of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Underground Injection Control Program.
The group also asked the EPA to take primacy — or control — of the injection control program, which regulates the disposal of frackwater and other wastes produced from natural gas and oil production. ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources took over the program from the U.S. EPA in 1983.
Simmers said he did not believe the invitation to appear was related to the coalition’s complaint.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.