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Surface Spills: The Real Environmental Risk

Published: Fri, March 1, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

The Ohio EPA’s Jan. 31 discovery of the illegal dumping of drilling wastes by Hardrock Excavating underscores the real environmental risk of oil and gas exploration and production activities.

Ever since the release of the 2010 documentary film “Gasland,” geologists and environmental scientists familiar with the oil and gas industry have spent countless hours explaining to the public that it is the handling of production fluids at the surface, not the process of hydraulic fracturing, that poses real risk to our environment.

The Utica Shale and Point Pleasant Formation throughout the wet-gas zone of eastern Ohio lies at depths between 7,000 and 9,000 feet below the surface. The notion that the hydraulic-fracturing process known as “fracking” can produce fractures that will extend to the surface and provide pathways for the migration of fracking fluids into our ground water and surface-water resources violates many well- established geologic principles and basic laws of physics.

The truth of the matter is fracking fluids and naturally occurring brine, oil and natural-gas liquids all pose significant environmental risk if they are not handled correctly once they have been brought from the depths of the earth to the surface by producing wells.

Brine is a naturally occurring fluid that starts out as marine saltwater trapped within the sediments as they accumulate on the sea floor. Over the millions of years that follow, the sediments are gradually buried to depths of thousands of feet as more sediments pile up.

The sediments lithify into rock, and the saltwater concentrates until it contains more than 100,000 parts per million (one-tenth) dissolved salts along with metals and organic compounds. Oil and gas are slowly produced from algae and bacteria trapped within shale as the burial gradually heats the rock through a process known as thermal maturation. Oil and gas is made of hydrocarbons and a whole slew of other volatile and semi-volatile organic and toxic compounds.

The oil and gas industry works very hard to supply our nation’s and the world’s demand for energy in an environmentally responsible fashion. Nonetheless, production fluids are hazardous materials, and the risk of spills is ever present. The fundamental ways in which production fluids can be spilled at the surface and threaten our environment boils down to a few basic and preventable situations that includes human error, negligence, equipment failure and insufficient surface storage capacity.

Think about it: Every time any production fluid is transferred from one holding vessel to another — whether it be from the well head to a pipeline or a storage container to a truck, or a truck to an injection well or treatment facility — the opportunity for spillage is present. Proper employee training, equipment maintenance and facility design can effectively eliminate the risk of spills.

Situations more difficult to control and prevent include accidents and the apparent disrespect for the environment, regulations and federal laws demonstrated by Ben Lupo of Hardrock Excavating.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas along with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are the regulatory and enforcement agencies of our state government. The body of regulations that we have today are the product of many years of experience and the adoption of new regulations as the oil and gas industry evolves and new technologies are created.

As shale-gas exploration and production in eastern Ohio expands in the years to come, the ODNR and the OEPA will be faced with the continuing challenge of enforcing regulations. The easiest and most-effective thing that citizens and elected officials can do to prevent spills and minimize the environmental risks of oil and gas production is to make sure our state agencies are sufficiently funded to hire the additional field inspectors, technicians and other personnel needed to carry out their important mission.

As for the Ben Lupos of the world, prosecution of illegal acts and revocation of operation permits will send the message that flagrant violation of laws and disregard for the environment will not be tolerated.


1VINDYAK(1824 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

As I have said before, we do need the energy but these oil and gas companies need to act responsibly, which they often bungle. What price are we willing to pay?

We have property in another county with a non-producing gas well on it, but the oil company that owns it refuses to plug it. That is another story. A few years ago the gas well burped out oil and contaminated acres of land due to someone leaving a valve open and rusted out buried lines burst and spewed oil onto our land. This was a clear case of irresponsible behavior, costing the oil company money to mitigate and loss of agricultural crops by a tenant farmer.

In more recent times the oil company failed to maintain a connection to a Dominion main line near the road and the line burst at the connection, spewing gas into the air for days until it was discovered. They replaced the connection not with a new valve, but with a used rusted valve that looked as bad as the one that failed.

Now the gas company wants to enter our land and do some exploratory digging to find another "T" valve they claim is on our land, but they don't know where. These are not accidents...these are Idiots!

Like I said, I sure would like to see them act responsibly, but at every turn they seem to be bungling, stumbling and acting like they have no idea what they are doing. IDIOTS!

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276Ytown(1364 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

The risk of spills needs to be very carefully thought out. It's not like "oops we have a spill, let's wipe it up". The consequences can be life altering. From radiation, methane gas, chemicals in fracking fluid, changes to the air, water and land need to be considered.

Why is Ohio becoming the dumping ground for fracking disposal from other states?


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3VINDYAK(1824 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Utica - there is absolutely no reason to involve the public in personal business handled by my attorney and the State of Ohio. There is much more that I have not mentioned and it will remain that way.

I added my general comments to show people that bad things do happen and we must be ever vigilant in making sure energy companies comply. These issues often happen over long periods of time, which enables energy companies to recover from bad feelings against them, only to loose their status gain as new issues arise when they fail to maintain their equipment or properly train employees.

I shall overlook your slight of posters being basement dwelling trolls spewing Russian and Arab propaganda. Not all of us are energy company employees.

Having wonderful venues such as Vindy sites to share our comments and experiences is fine, but we should not use it to involve the public in all of the details of private matters. Once you open the door with details, you risk the wrath of dozens of posting critics who only want more and/or want to solve a problem that has been taken care of professionally. That is why I continue to post in general terms.

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4AnotherAverageCitizen(1194 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

UTICA Says..""there are those fractivist who live in their mother's basement who fantasize about ways to add meaning to their uneventful lives and many times are regurgitating Russian and Arab propaganda to suppress our energy discovery.""

Please Mr Utica please add some facts that these posters live in basements. You sir should stand behind your own words. If someone says something about the gas industry that you do not agree with, you simply try to degrade them. Grow up man. Again give some FACTS about these people living in basements.

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5VINDYAK(1824 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Ahhha...we struck a nerve and the real troll spoke from his mother's basement!

Thank you troll for exposing your true identity.

Now we understand why these energy companies operate as irrationally and as recklessly as they do...their employees are trolls!

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6VINDYAK(1824 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Thank God...

Apparently Mr. Utica can't stand people who own more than he does, so he tries childish bullying to satisfy himself. But the odds of him really disappearing are not good. He can't stay away and is actually doing more harm to his cause than good.

His obnoxious ranting only shows what our community has to deal with when dealing with energy companies who move into our area and begin flexing their muscles, throwing money around and calling property owners trolls. They force us to call in the State of Ohio and we have to hire attorneys to right what they have wronged. It does not have to be this way.

Once again, I state my case before everyone reading this, let's do this responsibly. We don't need outsiders coming in here and telling us they are safe and responsible operators. We want to SEE safe and responsible operations!

People like Utica, who admits to being an energy company employee, only prove they have a long way to go in convincing us they are honest in their intentions.

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7williamsbilly201(18 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Thank you Utica! These people can't realize how little the industry or ODNR cares or listens to them. Everyday more companies are bringing in drilling rigs, while they sit in here protesting no one that matters. You people Ask how I can sleep at night? How about in a bed if money like everyone else in the business. Seriously it's not the issue we should be concerned about. Embrace it and enjoy the economic prosperity that was given to this Dieing city

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