Proceed with caution in reopening injection well


Now that a path has been cleared for reopening a controversial brine injection well in Weathersfield Township, it is imperative that owners of the well and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources work cooperatively and cautiously to ensure public health and safety are not compromised.

The well in question is owned by American Water Management Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Avalon Holdings Corp. of Howland, and is located just north of Niles off state Route 169 in the township. After a minor earthquake measuring 2.1 on the Richter Scale was felt in its vicinity in March 2014, ODNR promptly ordered its shutdown, and the company complied.

Since then, the well has been at the epicenter of ongoing debate by environmental activists over the safety of injection wells used in the hydraulic fracturing process for oil and natural-gas drilling. It’s also been a hot potato in the courts.

Claiming that the minor unfelt earthquake that led to ODNR’s shutdown shouldn’t have served as sufficient grounds to shut down the $7 million operation, AWMS appealed the decision.

Then last month, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Kimberly Cocroft sided with the well owner by ordering ODNR and AWMS to submit plans for reopening the well. After an unsuccessful appeal of that decision, ODNR earlier this week proposed a detailed plan by which the injection well could resume operations.

LOGICAL REASONING IN RULING

When the conflict over the well’s reopening is stripped of all of its emotion, we can understand the logical reasoning set forth by Judge Cocroft in her ruling on behalf of the company. She said ODNR acted inconsistently in the way it treated AWMS compared with operators of a Washington County injection well, where seismic activity also occurred. In that case, well operators and ODNR worked cooperatively and relatively fast to draft a plan to reopen the well.

It therefore boils down to a simple matter of fairness to AWMS.

“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,” Judge Cocroft said.

At the same time, any reopening must not give short shrift to legitimate safety and environmental concerns surrounding the well, its propensity to trigger earthquakes near a major Valley water supplier and concerns over leakages of potentially dangerous chemicals.

The plan proposed by ODNR takes those concerns to heart. Among its requirements are installation of a fifth seismic monitoring station, reactivation of four other monitoring stations, installation of three surface-motion monitors and suspension of operations in the event of a quake measuring a magnitude of 2.0 or higher.

The timing of the possible reopening of the well coincides with a reported upsurge in drilling and drilling-related activities in Ohio after a two-year period of decline. Clearly, if AWMS accepts and follows the multiple safeguards of the plan, it deserves an opportunity to share in the fruits of that resurgence.

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