By Jordan Cohen
City council unanimously has voted to prohibit the building and operation of saltwater and other types of injection wells that produce brine and other waste materials from oil and gas drilling.
The ordinance also bans transfer stations and facilities that treat soil contaminated by “petroleum products or hazardous substances.”
The ban is contained in an amendment to the city’s zoning ordinance. Council’s vote Wednesday night followed a virtually unattended public hearing in which no one offered any testimony for or against the amendment.
“I haven’t had anyone contact me to oppose this ever since we introduced the ordinance,” Mayor Ralph Infante said.
Infante said the Niles ordinance is modeled after a similar law in Cincinnati that has been used successfully to block injection well drilling.
The mayor said he was spurred to action when a well permit was granted in neighboring Weathersfield Township. “It’s only 50 yards from a school and less than five miles from [downtown],” Infante said.
“We don’t want brine trucks convoying through this community,” said the mayor, who advocated the ordinance after learning of other cities’ problems with brine disposal.
Brine results from hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in the extraction of oil and natural gas from underground. Injection wells dispose of the brine through high-pressure pumping.
Brine also can be transported by trucks for disposal to specific locations approved by the Environmental Protection Agency; however the EPA has fined drillers who have dumped brine illegally from their trucks, most recently in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest.
Drilling opponents argue that brine disposal, whether by injection well or truck, contaminates water and soil, and Infante agrees.
“You don’t know what these guys are doing or where they might dump it,” Infante said, although he conceded he can’t stop brine trucks from other communities coming through the city. Infante said he believes the city’s ban will lessen the possibility of illegal brine dumping within the city limits.
The mayor also said the zoning amendment will save time and money the city would have had to spend to contest injection-well permit applications.