Environmental groups are rallying behind bills that would ban the disposal of liquid waste from oil and natural gas drilling in underground injection wells. Activists gathered last week next to an oversized toilet near the governor’s office to protest Ohio’s role in handling drilling waste from the growing number of wells that use hydraulic fracturing to release energy supplies.
Underground injection, the state’s approved method for disposing of drilling waste, has not been without controversy. Experts linked a series of earthquakes in the Youngstown area in 2011 to an injection well that was shut down by the state Department of Natural Resources. That said, shutting down all of state’s 191 injection wells remains an unrealistic option.
Part of the environmentalists’ ire is aimed at waste coming from out of state, particularly West Virginia and Pennsylvania, which have far fewer injection wells. But court rulings have established that such shipments are interstate commerce, and constitutionally protected. As for waste coming from Ohio, few viable options for disposal exist, although state law rightly encourages the development of new ways to recycle and treat wastewater, to reduce the dependence on injection.
As with other aspects of hydraulic fracturing, close monitoring is crucial to preventing catastrophic accidents, requiring adequate funding for the Department of Natural Resources. Underground injection occurs far below the water table. Properly sited and maintained injection wells are now the best way to dispose of waste from the drilling boom, while keep drinking water safe.