For the last few election cycles, Ohio has been known as the key battleground state. But now it may be known for something else — helping to establish a trend in the field of hydraulic fracturing. Ohio’s environmental regulators may soon allow “fracking wastewater” to be stored in centralized impoundments.
Those huge pools, which would service multiple well sites, would replace the above-ground steel containers. Instead of having tons of trucking traffic, the used water is basically kept onsite until it is later re-used. That is, the water goes through a purification process before it is pumped back underground — along with sand and chemicals — to help loosen the shale gas from rock formations.
“These facilities are critical in the recycling and reuse process and help to reduce truck traffic and the need for impoundments for individual well sites,” says Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Texas-based Range Resources, which does not hold acreage in Ohio, but is the largest operator of impoundments in Pennsylvania, where it has extensive operations, in a McClatchy-Tribune news story. “Impoundments have reduced tens of thousands of truck loads in Pennsylvania and have allowed companies to utilize larger sources of water like the Ohio River.”
Those impoundments that can hold as much as 16 million gallons of water are widely used elsewhere in the country and especially in the Marcellus Shale region. But they are now forbidden in Ohio. And critics of them are saying it is for good reason: Skeptics are generally opposed to fracking because they maintain that the process pollutes drinking water supplies. With the use of large, centralized storage facilities, the odds of such an outcome are increased, they add.
Estimates are that it takes between 2 million and 9 million gallons of water to explore a single well. Multiply that by the thousands of wells that have been drilled and one can see why the opposition gets so riled up. Storing it in above-ground containers and centralized impoundments are two viable options. That water is then treated before it is trucked or piped to a drilling site, and then injected back into the ground to help retrieve new shale gas deposits.
But Jamison Cocklin of Youngstown, Ohio writes in the well-researched McClatchy story that the football-sized impoundments are using several forms of protection: double-lined seals and catch basins along with leak detections and ground water monitoring wells. He references a study by West Virginia University, which looked at 15 well sites in that state. That examination found that some pits were poorly constructed and that the state regulators had little background to make that kind of structural assessment. However, the study also said that if pools were built to standards then they would pose no environmental risk. “The problems identified do constitute a real hazard and present risk if allowed to progress,” says John Quaranta, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at WVU and the author of the paper that is referenced in Cocklin’s story. “But all problems that were observed in the field could be corrected.”
The professor adds that if Ohio regulators go ahead and Okay construction of those impoundments that would be built in the Utica Shale area then they would need to uphold a strict permitting and reclamation process. Such pools are intended to be temporary, although Ohio is still considering a timetable. Projections are that the impoundments will be allowed beginning early 2014. The common goal, nationally, is to advance the development of shale gas and by extension, the economies of the regions where such exploration occurs. Accomplishing that, though, will require the safe treatment and disposal of fracking water.