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A trip down the Mahoning River alerts Mike to some positive changes

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

From Consol’s investing in solar- powered brine filtration technology and Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ providing more seismic monitoring of injection wells, it’s clear the oil and natural-gas industry and regulators are learning lessons from eastern Ohio’s past and beginning to align with the longtime goals of Mahoning Valley residents.

For years, it’s been our mantra in the Valley to create jobs while cleaning up the water and land once polluted by defunct corporations.

Brownfields and polluted waterways were sins of the past.

I have lived in Girard, along the Mahoning River, for 30 of my 50 years. I canoed it for the first time during the weekend of Oct. 13.

I went with friend Don Rex. We were invited by Chuck Miller of Boardman and Thomas Smith of Girard to go on a paddling trip up the river from Lowellville to Covert’s Crossing in Edinburg, Pa.

The trip was sponsored by Trumbull Canoe Trails. I thought only a few boats would be taking part, but 29 showed up.

The trip was a testament to the fact that the people of the Valley are beginning to see their river as a potential recreational source, which can only be a good thing for our regional economy.

This river journey was inspired by two improvements to the Mahoning River.

First was the award of $2.3 million from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to remove the Lowellville dam.

The second was removal of an old railroad bridge’s pillars and shoreline restoration by First Energy near one of its substations along the river shore.

These and other improvements have made the river a recreational destination for the first time in more than a century.

The decisions made during the construction of Ohio’s drilling infrastructure may determine whether this long-awaited resource will flourish, or once again become an underused economic driver.

News also broke in October that state regulators are busy drafting rules and guidelines for the use of centralized impoundment pools in Ohio.

There are two reasons why the drilling industry wants to use the impoundments. When centrally located near wells, the ponds allow precious water to be reused for multiple frack jobs. It also opens the door for the use of solar-powered brin-water treatment technology because a pond is required in this process.

To learn more about solar-powered brine treatment, do an Internet search on “zero discharge waste brine management for desalination plants.”

The use of holding ponds in Ohio is not new. Unlined evaporation ponds were used in Ohio’s last oil boom in the 1960s and ’70s. Due to contamination of the water table in places such as Morrow County from pond seepage, the ODNR created the Class II Brine Injection well program.

This meant that all oil field wastewater would be injected deep below the water table. Liners, possibly double liners, are being considered now to prevent seepage. Pollutant evaporation of brine also is a concern for some, however.

These are new and improved technologies being applied today. I am hopeful the industry continues this more environmentally friendly approach as it constructs pipeline infrastructure and related downstream businesses such as cracker and petrochemical plants.

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