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Howland company argues injection well rules unfair

A Howland company is arguing to a Franklin County court that state rules for reopening and operating an injection well in Weathersfield Township are unfair and unscientific.

AWMS Water Solutions has filed its second and final arguments in an appeal of the decision of the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission. This commission has set the parameters under which the AWMS injection well in Weathersfield would reopen — and be closed again if it caused additional earthquakes.

The filing in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, written by attorney Matt Vansuch, who also is a Howland Township trustee, cites lots of scientific testimony from an Ohio Oil and Gas Commission hearing that took place on the issue Feb. 8 and 9 in Columbus, and many other scientific writings. AWMS and Vansuch argue the parameters set by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources are not based on science and not fair to AWMS.

The oil and gas commission in its decision affirmed the rules ODNR put in place for what would happen if the injection well reopened and caused additional earthquakes — like the ones that occurred in 2014.

The injection well is on state Route 169 just north of Niles. Injection wells force wastewater from the oil and gas industry deep underground as a means of disposal.

PROPOSALS

The ODNR rules for the Weathersfield well are that the well’s operations would be suspended again if it caused another earthquake of 2.1 magnitude or greater.

AWMS instead is proposing a “traffic light system” that would activate yellow should a 2.35-magnitude earthquake takes place and a red light at 3.0 magnitude.

The yellow light would indicate that the injection well would need to reduce its injection capacity by 10 percent and reduce its maximum weekly pressure to 1,350 pounds per square inch, AWMS has stated.

If an earthquake of 3.0 occurred, AWMS would “cease injection” for 20 days, after which it could resume injections but only at a capacity that is 20 percent below average and at a maximum pressure of 1,350 pounds per square inch. AWMS says the “traffic light system” would make ODNR “accountable” for its future decisions to close the facility.

Franklin County Judge Kimberly Cocroft will decide the issue.

FEAR MONGERING

In the newest filing, Vansuch accuses the attorneys from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, who represent the ODNR, of fear mongering regarding the potential for earthquakes caused by the AWMS well to damage the Meander dam in Mineral Ridge.

Vansuch said the ODNR’s attorneys used much of its most recent filing suggesting that the AWMS well “could theoretically cause the Mineral Ridge Dam to fail, and, in turn, cause death, devastation, the disappearance of drinking water and flooding.”

He continued, “The (ODNR) Division (of Oil and Gas) spent much time pillorying AWMS” and accusing it of not caring.

But he cited testimony at the oil and gas commission hearing of Dr. Ivan Wong, an ODNR expert witness and consultant, saying Wong “did not opine that ‘the dam would fail’ if there was a 4.5 (magnitude) earthquake at the AWMS facility.”

Instead, Wong testified only that such an earthquake would cause “‘significant ground shaking at the dam,’ but he could only ‘guess’ that there could be damage.” A 4.5-magnitude earthquake at the AWMS facility “is thousands of times more powerful” than the earthquakes blamed on the AWMS well in 2014, Vansuch stated.

And, Vansuch accused the lawyers for the ODNR in its recent filing of falsely comparing the potential harm that an earthquake at the Weathersfield well might cause to what happened Dec. 31, 2011, when the now-closed Northstar injection well on the north end of Youngstown caused a 4.0 earthquake.

“AWMS’s operations cannot be compared to those at the Northstar No. 1 (as being similar) particularly for the proposition that there will be significant jumps in seismic events,” Vansuch wrote.

“For perspective, the Northstar 4.0 seismic event was 700 times stronger than either of the two (2014) AWMS seismic events,” he said. The AWMS injection well as been closed since the 2014 earthquakes.

Vansuch’s filing referenced the testimony of Dr. Brian Currie, a geology professor at Miami University in Ohio, when Currie testified at the Oil and Gas Commission hearing in February that Northstar No. 1 well was operated without any of the mitigation techniques or tools “like those that AWMS has proposed, and, if AWMS’s proposed plan had been used, the operator would have had the opportunity to dial back the injection pressures and volumes, thereby decreasing the volumes, magnitude and frequency of the seismic events.”

TOWNSHIP CONCERNS

Weathersfield Township Law Director Cherry Poteet has asked Cocroft to allow her to file an amicus brief in support of the ODNR’s position in the case, but the judge has not ruled on the motion.

An amicus brief is filed by a person or group that is not a party to an action, but has a strong interest in the matter.

Poteet’s brief would tell the judge of the township’s concerns for the safety of the community if AWMS was not regulated in the way ODNR has proposed.

Poteet stated that the township has concerns about the close proximity of the AWMS well to the former Northstar injection well in Youngstown and the potential for similar earthquakes to occur in both locations.

And she noted the township’s concern for potential earthquake damage to the Meander dam, which is a little over three miles from the injection well.

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