By Ed Runyan
More than two years after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shut down a deep injection well in Weathersfield Township because of small earthquakes, a judge has ordered the state to allow it to reopen.
Judge Kimberly Cocroft of Franklin County Common Pleas Court issued a decision Friday that orders ODNR and American Water Management Services, owner of the well, to submit a proposed entry setting forth the parameters under which the well will reopen.
Specifically, the judge said the entry should address the amount of oil and gas drilling waste that will be injected initially into the well, the injection pressures to be used and how they will “incrementally increase the volume and pressure while simultaneously providing constant monitoring for seismicity.”
The entry also must “address the concerns of public health and safety.” The entries must be filed within 30 days.
Her decision came in an appeal of an ODNR decision of Sept. 4, 2014, to shut down the well and an Oct. 2, 2014, decision by the Columbus-based Oil and Gas Commission to support the ODNR decision. The well, on state Route 169 just north of Niles, began operations April 1, 2014.
“I’m a little shocked,” said Gil Blair, an attorney and Weathersfield Township trustee, when informed of the decision by The Vindicator. “We just don’t need another earthquake. I’m troubled by the location in relation to the Meander Dam, downtown Niles, downtown Warren. I don’t think that’s the location to experiment with.”
Ron Klingle, CEO of Avalon Holdings, which owns the well, said the judge affirmed that ODNR has the authority to suspend the operations of an injection well, “but it has to be reasonable, and there was no justification for what they did.” No one from the ODNR could be reached to comment.
Klingle said the 2.1 earthquake that led to the shutdown “shouldn’t have been enough to shut down a $7 million facility that wasn’t causing any problems.”
One reason the judge said she is overturning the state’s decision is that it has not been consistent in the way it treated AWMS compared to a Washington County injection well.
The state worked with the owners of the Long Run injection well in Washington County near Marietta to reduce injection rates after seismic activity there, the judge said.
“Although the [state] worked individually to resolve the site-specific problems with the Long Run Well, it has not evaluated the AWMS No. 2 well or formally responded to [AWMS]’s plan to restart the well. Moreover, it has not engaged [AWMS] in any way to formulate and implement a site-specific plan,” she said.
Instead, the ODNR indicated that it was pausing operation of the AWMS well until after it had adopted a statewide policy related to injection-well seismic activity, the judge said.
The ODNR had said the new statewide policy might be ready as early as September 2015, but it has not been written, and Richard Simmers, ODNR Oil and Gas Division chief, has indicated that he “had no idea when a plan would be ready,” the judge said.
She said this refusal of ODNR to respond to AWMS in its request to study options for reopening the well is unfair.
“By stalling for over 26 months, the [ODNR] is denying [AWMS] a site-specific evaluation and plan to restart its well, even though [AWMS] is in full compliance,” she said.
Even in the case of the Northstar 1 well in Youngstown, the ODNR “worked proactively with the operator to restart that well,” the judge said. Through that “proactive response,” the ODNR discovered information about the operator of the well that led to revocation of the permit, she said.
Judge Cocroft said she found that AWMS did not violate the terms or conditions of its permit during the months it operated the well, even when the 2.1-magnitude earthquake occurred Aug. 31, 2014.
ODNR officials have said “felt” earthquakes, meaning ones people can feel, begin at a magnitude of about 2.5.