Viewpoint: Citizens not being protected

Viewpoint: Citizens not being protected

Letter to the Editor,

Since fracking first appeared in the Appalachian counties of Southeast Ohio, residents have witnessed the green rolling hills become an industrial landscape. Today, fracking wells, compressor stations and pipelines are now a major part of that landscape.

The rural roads are now congested with dangerous truck traffic. Local residents must dodge semi-trucks carrying sand and chemicals to fracking well pads and brine tankers transporting “produced fluids” away from the sites to Class II injection wells.

Those produced fluids are innocuously referred to as “brine,” even though the oil and gas industry and regulators know this fluid is much more than just a mixture of halide salts.

This waste contains flowback water, a chemical cocktail of benzene, arsenic, formaldehyde, lead, mercury, PFAS and many other proprietary chemicals.

The liquid waste also contains toxic metals, radioactive materials and brine resulting from contact with the ancient rock formation that is being fracked.

According to a 2018 study out of Dartmouth College, in just hours radioactive Radium 226 and Radium 228 can be leached out of the rock and into the saline solution. As the waste is pulled to the surface to be disposed of, the water-soluble radioactive isotopes hitch a ride as well.

During a June 2022 public meeting with Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources, the risks of transporting this toxic fluid on our state, county and township roads were questioned. The response of ODNR was to deflect the responsibility on to Ohio’s Department of Transportation.

“In 1988 EPA issued a regulatory determination stating that control of exploration and production wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Subtitle C regulations is not warranted. Hence, E&P wastes have remained exempt from Subtitle C regulations. The RCRA Subtitle C exemption, however, did not preclude these wastes from control under state regulations, under the less stringent RCRA Subtitle D solid waste regulations, or under other federal regulations. In addition, although they are relieved from regulation as hazardous wastes, the exemption does not mean these wastes could not present a hazard to human health and the environment if improperly managed.”

In 1983 an agreement between Ohio and U.S. EPA gave Ohio authority over the oil and gas waste disposal program or primacy. This means Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources has responsibility for enforcement action, violations, permit terms, federal policies and adherence to the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Sadly, the state has shown time and time again it cannot carry out these responsibilities, failing to protect the citizens of the state from this toxic brew. These failures include a poor enforcement record, incidents of wastes migrating from the injection formation and unlawful waste disposal.

The well-disposal program excludes citizens from participating in permit decisions. Low-income Appalachian Ohioans are being disproportionately affected as the majority of disposal wells are located in their communities. “More than 18 billion gallons of waste fluid from oil and gas is generated annually in the USA,” according to the American Petroleum Institute.

Horizontal unconventional wells can contain water-soluble Radium-226 in concentrations ranging from 40-26,000 pCi/L. The safe drinking water standard for Ra-226 and Ra-228 is 5 pCi/L. This toxic radioactive waste is being pushed down injection wells in Ohio. In addition, much of the waste injected into Ohio’s Class II wells comes from neighboring states including Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Recently, the Buckeye Environmental Network, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and several frontline grassroot groups petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency to rescind the primacy granted to ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management for permitting and monitoring Class II injection wells in the state of Ohio. This is because the ODNR has failed to meet the basic requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act and failed to carry out its environmental justice obligations under federal law and executive orders.

Many citizens do not realize these tanker cars carry a toxic radioactive substance that can pollute their drinking water source and potentially harm their health. Additionally, House Bill 282 and Senate Bill 171 would commodify brine and allow it to be used as a deicer on Ohio roads.

Trusting the ODNR to protect Ohio’s water and public health has proven to be a bad decision. The ODNR cannot safely or adequately manage the oil and gas waste program. Ohio’s citizens are not being protected. It is time for a change.

Dr. Randi Pokladnik

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