By Ed Runyan
An Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesman says the Kleese Development Associates injection-well holding tanks on Sodom Hutchings Road did have a liner meant to prevent a leak like the one discovered last March that fouled wetlands, ponds and streams – but it was “not built properly.”
ODNR spokesman Eric Heis said he doesn’t know specifically what was wrong with the construction, but he wouldn’t disagree with the possibility raised in a recently discovered document that the liner might have been two pieces that “merely overlap and do not have welded seams.”
Mary Ann Kleese, CEO of KDA, declined Wednesday to be interviewed for this story.
An affidavit filed by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigator quoted ODNR geologist Andrew Adgate saying that ODNR required KDA to build an impermeable “impoundment” under the holding tanks. That could have consisted of either a one-piece liner or multiple liners with welded seams.
“Adgate acknowledged that liners that merely overlap and do not have welded seams are not impermeable,” the EPA’s David Barlow wrote in the 22-page document filed in U.S. District Court to support a request for a warrant to search KDA facilities in Vienna and Warren.
The search was conducted as part of a criminal investigation of the spill. Barlow indicated in the affidavit that employees said the spill occurred two to three weeks before an Ohio EPA official first arrived at the scene April 2 and observed oil in the environment.
The company apparently never notified anyone of the spill, which employees said occurred in mid-March, when about 10,000 gallons of petroleum spilled from holding tanks during maintenance work by a company separate from KDA. Between 2,000 and 8,000 gallons of light waste oil was released into the environment, the affidavit said.
Heis said last week the state has continually made improvements to the rules that govern the gas and oil industry in Ohio, but it currently has nothing to guarantee that a company constructs an injection well pad according to the plans ordered by ODNR.
The state does have new rules that better ensure that companies building well pads for horizontal drilling operations are constructed properly, Heis said.
Rules instituted last summer require ODNR Division of Oil and Gas engineers to inspect the construction of horizontal gas and oil well pads “at every phase of construction,” but that requirement doesn’t exist yet for injection wells, Heis said.
When a company applies to build an injection facility like the one that leaked on Sodom Hutchings, ODNR experts review the plans and write specific requirements for that installation, Heis said.
For example, at some injection wells, seismic monitoring is required. “In each permit, there are different rules,” Heis said.
Heis said he doesn’t know how soon rules might be changed to require an inspection of every phase of construction for injection wells.
In the meantime, companies that fail to follow their construction plans will experience serious repercussions, like what KDA has experienced since its spill.
“Look what’s happened to KDA. Their whole facility has been deconstructed,” Heis said of KDA’s containment tanks. “It behooves the company to follow the plans.”
All five of the injection wells at the Sodom Hutchings site have been idled since just after the spill was discovered. The company has continued to operate its two injection wells in Warren Township along U.S. Route 422 just northwest of the state Route 5 Bypass, however.
When asked whether ODNR has checked the Warren Township site for a proper liner, Heis said that would be impractical because of the amount of earth-moving that would be required.
“Inspectors are aware of concerns about KDA,” Heis said, but he believes it would be a “fairly big project” to dig up the site to inspect the liner.
Heis said Ohio has a good track record for its inspection of well sites for horizontal wells and injection wells and is also increasing its staffing for emergency response to accidents.
“We are one of the best states in terms of inspections for well pads,” Heis said.
As of Oct 28, the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas had 48 field inspectors and another eight managers who also inspect wells, Heis said. “To date in 2015, we have 24,018 inspections on the books with additional inspections pending.”
ODNR recently created an Emergency Operations and Response Team with three members and more being trained and soon to be ready to begin. The team members are regionally located in the Uniontown, Zanesville, and Columbus offices.
“Additional staff for the team will be distributed throughout the eastern portion of the state, including New Philadelphia, Barlow and Mount Vernon,” Heis said. They are on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week and can respond within an hour of any emergency, Heis said.
A Sodom Hutchings resident who saw an orange sheen on his pond first reported the KDA spill, contacting various agencies by telephone, including the Ohio EPA. No one came to the site to check it right away.
Heidi Griesmer, deputy director of communications for the Ohio EPA, later said no one from the state visited the site right away because the resident’s report was “inconclusive,” and he was given “signs to look for and call back if they appeared.”
The resident called back two days later, “and within 24 hours, Ohio EPA and ODNR responded in a coordinated effort,” Griesmer said.