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Official offers site tours to address residents’ concerns
By Ed Runyan
Stephen Kilper, vice president of American Water Management Services, the operator of a new brine-injection well on Route 169 just north of Niles, says he has no problem with the protesters who blocked the facility’s entrance in November.
“I think they are important to keep the industry in check, so shady operators don’t get things wrong,” he said.
Two local environmentalists were convicted of trespassing for blocking tanker trucks from getting into the facility while AWMS was preparing the site.
At the time, the activists raised concerns about a wastewater impoundment pond at the site, which was part of the original plans, but the ODNR rejected that part, and so the company went with storage tanks only.
“If everybody is educated, they’ll know this is the safest way to dispose of brine,” Kilper said, adding that he gives tours so that people with questions and concerns can have them addressed.
On March 24, the facility received permission from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to begin commercial injection of brine water from the gas and oil industry, and is now injecting about 20 percent to 30 percent of its capacity of 252,000 gallons per day or so — “and growing,” Kilper said.
That amount of capacity is based on the well injecting the brine at 1,025 pounds per square inch in the shallower of the wells and 1,680 pounds per square inch in the deeper well, Kilper said.
The company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Avalon Holdings Corp. of Howland, expects to reach capacity because drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays is “still growing,” along with a 12 percent to 15 percent annual growth in the need for brine-water disposal, he said.
Avalon Holdings owner Ron Klingle told Kilper to build a “first-class facility,” and they have invested $5 million to drill the two wells, install several tanks, two unloading stations on a cement pad underlain with a landfill liner and a building holding injection pumps for each well — also underlaid with a landfill liner.
The liners, above-ground piping, surveillance cameras, multiple fail-safe systems and a glass-lined main tank that holds 4,000 gallons were used to provide the greatest level of safety possible, Kilper said.
“I think this is the most technologically advanced facility in Ohio until somebody builds the next one, maybe us,” he said.
The ODNR indicated that it would not grant a permit allowing the Weathersfield injection well to begin commercial injection until it was satisfied that the seismic monitoring being done at and near the site indicated that the wells were not creating seismic activity, such as earthquakes.
ODNR Spokesman Mark Bruce said in mid-March the earthquakes that stopped hydraulic fracturing at the Hilcorp Energy Co. Republic Services Carbon Limestone Landfill in Poland Township would be considered in relation to the Weathersfield injection well about 20 miles away.
A short time later, however, ODNR allowed the Weathersfield injection well to begin full operations.
“All testing to date, including seismic testing, has shown nothing out of the ordinary,” Bruce said in an email Wednesday. “Regular inspections of the wells will continue and we will continue to monitor seismicity for the foreseeable future as the well continues commercial injection operations.”
He added that the distance between the Poland earthquakes and the Weathersfield injection well suggests there is no reason to be concerned about the one being related to the other.
Kilper said the timing of his company’s request to drill its brine injection well in Weathersfield couldn’t have been much worse.
AWMS applied for the permit Dec. 23, 2011, about a week before a New Year’s Eve. 4.0-magnitude earthquake caused ODNR to close the Northstar 1 brine injection well near the epicenter of the earthquake off of Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown.
Before the Northstar earthquakes, it took about 30 days to get permit approval for an injection well, Kilper said. It took 19 months for the AWMS wells.
This is AWMS’ first brine-water injection facility, though Avalon Holdings has worked in the waste-disposal business since 1988, selling off its American Waste Services landfill subsidiary to Waste Management in 1999.
To prepare to drill its Weathersfield well, AWMS researched the 13 locations where injection wells were blamed for causing earthquakes, Kilper said.
The problem in most cases was drilling into the Precambrian formation, injecting into areas in Oklahoma that already had fault lines, and injecting at pressure levels that were high enough to cause fracturing of the rock, Kilper said.