The amount of waste from the shale-gas and oil-drilling process injected into disposal wells in Ohio is continuing to rise, according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The agency reported that 14.2 million barrels of fluids and other waste from the process of hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — were injected into disposal wells in the state in 2012. That was up 12 percent from the previous year.
The increase was driven by waste removed from shale wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In fact, Ohio data show that disposal wells here injected 8.16 million barrels of waste from other states — a 19 percent increase from 2011. The Columbus Dispatch reported the data Monday.
The waste comes from fracking, a process that pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep below ground to break up shale and free-trapped oil and gas. The boom in recent years in eastern Ohio and other states has reduced oil and gas imports and generated billions of dollars for companies and landowners.
In the process, some of the fluids bubble back up with the gas. Oil and gas wells also produce saltwater contaminated with metals and radioactive materials trapped underground for millions of years.
Opponents who contend that spent fracking fluids pollute groundwater say they are concerned about the increase.
“I think we’ve been the sacrifice zone for the oil-and-gas industry long enough,” said Teresa Mills, fracking coordinator for the Buckeye Forest Council. “How much can we take before there are more earthquakes and before [drinking-water] wells are contaminated?”
But new research in Pennsylvania demonstrates that it’s hard to nail down how often natural-gas drilling is contaminating drinking water: One study found high levels of methane in some water wells within a half-mile of gas wells, while another found some serious methane pollution occurring naturally, far away from drilling.
The flow of fracking waste into Ohio began in 2011 after Pennsylvania oil-and-gas regulators ordered businesses to stop dumping the waste in that state’s streams. Unlike Ohio, Pennsylvania doesn’t have the authority to oversee and permit the drilling of its own disposal wells.
Companies seeking federal permits for the disposal wells have found that approval can take months.
As more waste comes into Ohio, companies are drilling more disposal wells. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said there are 191, compared with 177 in January 2012.