Citizens, groups, call on US EPA to hold ODNR accountable during audit for poor administration of injection wells.

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An Injection Well site near Youngstown, Ohio

 

Columbus, Ohio – a coalition of groups and individuals submitted reviews, testimony, and key documents to the US EPA, calling on them to hold Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) accountable for poor oversight of the state administered Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. The US EPA is auditing ODNR after the groups issued a complaint letter in March.

The audit will review the ODNR administered program, which allows the state agency – rather than the US EPA – to have oversight of the permitting, inspection, and enforcement of injection wells in Ohio. Injection wells allow for the disposal of unconventional drilling waste underground, and Ohio as well as Pennsylvania have seen recent booms of shale drilling.

The testimony and documents cite a long list of failures by the agency to administer the program in compliance with federal and state law, and also outlines a ‘race to the bottom’ scenario where lax regulation and enforcement in Ohio has led to an influx of drilling waste from states like Pennsylvania, where UIC programs are administered by US EPA.

Injection wells have become a controversial issue in Ohio since being linked to numerous earthquakes near Youngstown, catching the attention of many Ohio citizens who rely on groundwater for their homes and have noticed the out-of-state license plates on the numerous waste trucks.

Citizens have also taken note that there is a substantial level of risk associated with injecting toxic or radioactive fluid through aquifers. As they look to ODNR to find out what is being done to protect Ohioans from associated financial and environmental health risks, they’ve discovered the agency lacks transparency and public involvement, and even goes so far as to do PR for the industry.

After injection wells caused numerous earthquakes near Youngstown, ODNR stated there was “no evidence of a correlation between injection wells and earthquakes,” despite a history of induced seismicity dating back to the 1960′s, for example.

Just a month ago, the Ohio Sierra Club sued ODNR for refusing public records for the second time in just a year.

“When we requested citizen testimony, we were overwhelmed by the number of people that came forward with information. Citizens from several Ohio counties in Eastern Ohio came forward with records of ODNR repeatedly ignoring public information requests, denying public hearings, allowing repeat offenders to continue to operate, and endless accounts of everything from well casing failures and failed integrity tests to abundant amounts of liquid waste spilling off of sites. Many of these citizens had already brought these concerns to ODNR without any level of success,” said Brian Kunkemoeller of the Ohio Sierra Club. “You start to ask yourself, who is ODNR really working for here?”

“Overall, ODNR is doing little to address countless violations beyond a simple phone call or e-mail. No fines, and hardly any notices. It would be like getting pulled over for speeding once every three months, and instead of getting a ticket, you just get an e-mail telling you to slow down. That’s not enforcement,” said Teresa Mills of Center for Health and Environmental Justice.

A review of documents from past two audits of the ODNR injection program – in 2005 and 2009 – shows a majority of text has been simply copied and pasted. The group demands that this time is different, or Ohioans will continue to face more of the same.

“The public deserves transparency and accountability. ODNR has direct incentive to pollute, but not to protect. This means fewer protections for the public from risk– and assurances to cater to industries across the midwest that generate toxic waste and bring it here to the heartland. Right now there seems to be no solution to this short of stripping ODNR of it’s ability to administer the program and giving it back to US EPA, while citizens continue to fight for an outright ban on the wells altogether” said Cheryl Johncox of Buckeye Forest Council.

ODNR officials traveled to Washington shortly after the citizens complaint, assuring members of Congress that despite the allegations, the agency was fully capable of administering the program.

The citizens have requested that US EPA hold hearings to discuss their findings.

 

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The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization. The club’s motto is “enjoy, explore, and protect the planet.”

The Center for Health, Environment, & Justice is a national, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that provides organizing and technical assistance to grassroots community groups in the environmental health and justice movement.

Buckeye Forest Council is a membership-based, grassroots organization dedicated to protecting Ohio’s forests and their inhabitants.