By Spencer Hunt
Battelle scientists are leading a search for sites where companies can safely pump fracking wastes underground in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The two-year project, funded by a $1.8 million U.S. Department of Energy grant, is a response to the growing amount of polluted wastewater that bubbles out of fracked shale wells. Millions of barrels of the wastes are pumped into disposal wells, many of which are in Ohio.
With more drilling and fracking expected, oil and gas companies will need to find the best locations to safely inject more waste, said Neeraj Gupta, senior research leader for Battelle’s subsurface-resources group.
“That’s one of our objectives. Where is the injection capacity?” Gupta said.
Right now, it’s in Ohio, where more than 14.2 million barrels of fracking fluids and related wastes from oil and gas wells were pumped into 190 disposal wells last year. That was a 12-percent increase over 2011.
Much of the waste — 8.16 million barrels last year — came from Pennsylvania, which has seven active disposal wells. West Virginia has 63 disposal wells.
The fracking process pumps millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to shatter the shale and free its trapped oil and gas. Some of the fluid bubbles back up, along with ancient saltwater that contains toxic metals and radium.
Environmental advocates say they worry that old, poorly maintained disposal wells will leak pollutants to groundwater.
“Ohio has injected enough waste into all of the different strata,” said Teresa Mills, fracking coordinator for the Buckeye Forest Council. “They just need to stop it.”
Mark Bruce, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said state geologists will provide mapping data and core samples to help Gupta’s team map the extent and capacity of injection zones.
“The more information you have, the better and the easier it is to make the decisions that have to be made,” Bruce said.