By David Skolnick
Two Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials will attend a Wednesday public meeting here to discuss geology and regulatory issues related to a shut-down brine-injection well.
The well is located a short distance from the center of 11 earthquakes that happened in the past 10 months.
The officials will have knowledge of the regulatory process for injection wells and the geology around the shut-down well on Youngstown’s West Side, said Carlo LoParo, an ODNR spokesman.
ODNR Director James Zehringer won’t be at Wednesday’s meeting, LoParo said.
Instead, Zehringer and the agency’s top officials will meet Monday behind closed doors with invited Mahoning County elected officials at the Ohio Earthquake Information Center in Delaware County, about 15 miles from Columbus.
At the private meeting, ODNR officials will give an explanation of the deep- injection-well process, safety standards for the wells, and geology, said LoParo.
It’s closed to the media and public because it’s a “legislative briefing. We want to make sure information can be conveyed in a comprehensive and extensive format with questions and answers. No confidential information will be given,” LoParo said.
State Rep. Robert F. Hagan and Mayor Charles Sammarone, both Democrats who have expressed serious concerns about the well and its potential connection to the earthquakes, won’t attend Monday’s private meeting.
Hagan objects to the media’s not being permitted to attend.
Also, he said, ODNR invited local government officials to the earthquake facility in “an effort to diffuse what we’re doing in Youngstown. They don’t want to come to Youngstown for a public meeting.”
LoParo said that isn’t the case.
Sammarone said he already has four other meetings planned for Monday, and questioned why ODNR couldn’t bring more officials to the Wednesday meeting in Youngstown.
“It doesn’t make sense to have it down there,” he said of the Monday meeting.
Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said he’s encouraging local elected officials to not attend Monday’s meeting because of ODNR’s decision to not invite the media.
“That’s not how you do things,” he said. “It needs to be open and transparent.”
Hagan, Sammarone and city council’s public utilities committee will have a public meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Covelli Centre community room to talk about the injection well and earthquakes.
“We want to educate the public on fracking, injection wells and traditional oil and gas wells,” said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, public utilities chairman. “The biggest thing is informing the public. I think ODNR needs to come here and answer questions from the public.”
Sammarone wants to find out why the earthquakes happened and if there will be more.
Officials from ODNR, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Geological Survey, the federal EPA and U.S. Geological Survey were invited to attend.
Though ODNR has confirmed, the federal EPA declined to attend because Ohio “has primacy for this program,” according to an email to Hagan’s office from Denise Gawlinski, the EPA’s Region 5 congressional/ intergovernmental liaison at the agency’s Chicago office.
There’s been no confirmation from any of the other invited agencies.
Also, Ohio House and Senate subcommittees that deal with energy, the environment, natural resources and public utilities will have a public hearing at 10 a.m. Jan. 17 at Youngs-town State University’s Kilcawley Center to discuss fracking and drilling, said state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33rd.
The subcommittees will hear testimony from geologists and ODNR officials, Schiavoni said.
“It’s not a dog-and-pony show,” he said. “We’re going to ask them tough questions.”
On Dec. 30, D&L Energy Group agreed to shut down a brine-injection well on Ohio Works Drive after discussions with the ODNR.
A day later, an earthquake, the largest of the 11 with a magnitude 4.0, occurred leading the state to order D&L to keep that well and four inactive wells, within a five-mile radius of the active one, shut indefinitely.
“Our science shows there’s a high likelihood the [well and the earthquakes] are related,” LoParo said.
ODNR won’t rush to reopen the injection well, he said.
D&L met privately Wednesday with the ODNR and agreed to pay an independent entity to conduct a geology examination in and around the Ohio Works Drive injection well.
A D&L spokesman said the study cost could exceed $1 million.
The well must meet a “very high standard” to be reopened, LoParo said.
And ODNR will make that determination based on the agency’s research, he said.
“We’re preparing a comprehensive analysis of what occurred at the well site,” LoParo said. “All decisions will be based on our data and research. Any information D&L provides we’ll examine, but ODNR is doing its own comprehensive study.”
The ODNR study should be done in the next 30 days, he said.
The Ohio Works well injects brine, a byproduct of fracking, about 9,300 feet into the ground. D&L isn’t fracking at the location.
Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet underground to extract natural gas and oil. Injection wells are the opposite — it uses the fluid left over from fracking and injects it deep into the ground for disposal.