Fracking boom in Portage County raises concerns about drinking water

Fracking boom in Portage County raises concerns about drinking water
Fran Teresi, a retired science teacher, started a water monitoring program in Garrettsville. (Source: WOIO)
Fran Teresi, a retired science teacher, started a water monitoring program in Garrettsville. (Source: WOIO)
A truck leaves an injection well site in Portage County. (Source: WOIO)
A truck leaves an injection well site in Portage County. (Source: WOIO)
This fracking site in Portage County is no longer active. (Source: WOIO)
This fracking site in Portage County is no longer active. (Source: WOIO)

PORTAGE COUNTY, OH (WOIO) - Fracking for oil and gas in Ohio is on the rise.

More fracking is bringing fears of water contamination for some residents who live nearby. Hydraulic fracking injects large amounts of water mixed with sand and chemicals underground to force open shale rock, releasing oil or gas. It's what comes up next that worries some residents in Portage County.

Fracking wastewater, also known as brine, can contain toxic chemicals-- from barium to copper and arsenic. Cleveland 19 News is asking where the waste water goes and if our drinking water is safe.

The EPA has found potential for fracking to impact drinking water resources, through truck spills or other methods. But in a 2015 report, it concluded that there have been no "widespread, systemic impact on drinking water resources in the United States."

Water and fracking in Portage County

Farms and small towns dot the landscape of Portage County. It's about 500 square miles, home to over 161,000 people. It's also one of the top 10 counties for fracking wastewater dumping in Ohio. Cleveland 19 News crunched the numbers and found oil and gas companies pumped nearly 28 million gallons into injection wells in Portage County last year.

The U.S. EPA says underground injection wells are the safest method of wastewater disposal. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources regulates the industry here in Ohio. Officials say no cases of ground water contamination have been caused by injected fluids in our state. Click here to watch how the fracking wastewater disposal process works.

All of these reassurances don't have residents like Fran Teresi convinced.

"There's a concern here," Teresi said. "We have brine trucks running on Route 88 through our watershed to the injection wells north of town."

Garrettsville resident takes action

Teresi started a water monitoring program for Garrettsville, where she lives. "We do regular testing of our water wells, but we had nothing to test our watershed," she said.

Water monitoring wells cost too much -- a whopping $25,000 each. So Teresi had an idea. She consulted with an environmental agency and they mapped out the watershed. "These are hydraulic fracking drills in the area, so this is Garrettsville, again that's our drinking water," Teresi said, pointing to a map.

Then she asked residents if they could sample the water from their private residential wells. Sixteen residents signed on. There are two injection wells permitted north of town and Teresi says drilling could start again anytime.

"They have chemicals on site. We don't know what the problems are going to be, which makes it really hard to plan for. So blanketing the area with monitoring wells we thought was the best way to go," Teresi said.

Teresi, a former science teacher, now has four years of baseline water quality data for Garrettsville.

"Garrettsville does have good water," she said, as she drank a glass of water. They have not found any cases of contaminated water since they started testing. But now she's prepared with the data she needs in case that ever happens.

"If we would see any spikes in any of those areas, that would be when we'd start checking what was going on in that area as well," Teresi said. The wells in Teresi's program are tested by Portage County Health Department.

Portage County Health Department tests water for possible contamination

On a rainy day, we caught up with Jack Madved in Ravenna. He's a registered sanitarian with the state of Ohio. He showed us how water testing works.

"When people ask for a sampling for fracking issues, we give them something called a tier one, two and three," Madved said.

Madved follows strict protocols for well water sampling that meets Ohio EPA standards. He tested for any chemicals in the water.

"We're able to fill the bucket up, take the samples here and put them underwater with a set procedure and that way we can get the most accurate sample of how much dissolved methane is in the water," Madved said.

He says labeling is really important. "If we don't have the proper information, these are invalid," he said.

"Before fracking occurs, many people want to get exactly what is in their water today, before any drilling, before any extraction occurs by any companies," Madved said.

Injection wells

Fracking wastewater contains toxic chemicals that are put back into the ground inside injection wells. Many environmentalists worry it could contaminate drinking water sources.

The ODNR says Ohio took in nearly 29 million barrels of fracking wastewater in 2015 — that's 1.2 billion gallons of waste. About 55 percent of fracking wastewater that ends up in Ohio actually comes from Ohio.

Thirteen million barrels of last year's wastewater came from states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia. We requested the numbers from the ODNR and found Ohio has 244 saltwater injection wells; 215 of those are active.

For comparison, the US EPA tells us Pennsylvania only has seven active injection wells for fracking waste and West Virginia has 65.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources response

"Ohio's Class II disposal wells are inspected at least quarterly (US EPA requires once every five years) and are permitted with conditions that requires extensive testing prior to a well receiving authorization to begin injection operations. Additionally, all critical phases of injection well construction are witnessed by UIC inspectors. This includes surface casing cement jobs, installation of tubing and packer, and mechanical integrity testing.

Surface casing of all wells (6-plus layers of cement and steel piping) is required to be set at a minimum 50 feet below the lowermost USDW (Underground Source of Drinking Water) and cemented to surface."

Cleveland 19 News asked: Why does Ohio receive drilling waste water from Pennsylvania and West Virginia? The ODNR responded with this statement:

"Geology. Ohio has multiple layers of impenetrable rock that does not allow waste water to return to the surface or underground aquifers. PA and WV lack similar geology in many areas.

Regulations. Ohio has some of the strongest regulations in the country, ensuring the safety of the environment and the public. PA only recently outlawed surface dumping of brine waste water and did not have a regulatory framework set up for UIC well construction.

Business Climate – Ohio's injection wells are often in close proximity to oil and gas operations in PA or WV and thus are more economical for disposal."

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