ODNR, Companies Counter Claims about Northstar Well

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- The Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued orders in January giving two Pennsylvania companies authority to dispose of brine at the Northstar Disposal Well #1, the well that officials say was responsible for a series of earthquakes that shook the Mahoning Valley in 2011 and early 2012.

However, an inspection of the ODNR-issued orders shows Northstar is among several wells the two companies had obtained prior approval to use in the past, and an ODNR spokesman insists that waste from hydraulic fracturing won’t be going into the well anytime soon because of the disposal moratorium put in place following the seismic activity.

Ray Beiersdorfer, a geology professor at Youngstown State University, distributed to reporters Thursday copies of orders issued by ODNR to two Pennsylvania companies, WTC Gas Field Services Inc. of Indiana and West Penn Energy Services of Shelocta.

The orders, dated Jan. 15 and obtained through a public records request by Teresa Mills of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, authorize modifications to both companies’ disposal plans to permit disposal of brine at locations that include Northstar #1.

“As you well know, the Northstar 1 well in 2011 was responsible for well over 100 earthquakes,” Beiersdorfer said. He cited a paper by Dr. Won-Young Kim of Columbiana University published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. “He says that although we do not know the extent of the faults in the Youngstown area, it is possible that continued injection of fluid at Northstar 1 well could have triggered potentially large and damaging earthquakes,” Beiersdorfer said.  

He also called it “irresponsible” for Richard Simmers, chief of ODNR’s oil and gas resources management division, to allow companies to be able to bring frack waste to Northstar. “This well needs to be plugged and abandoned,” he emphasized.

The separate orders to modify the two companies’ disposal plans each listed Northstar among the sites each had previously received approval to use. The orders approved adding the Barnesville #1 Well in Warren Township, Belmont County, to both companies’ lists. West Penn Energy’s order added the Kleese #1 and #2 wells in Vienna Township, Trumbull County, as well as sites in Guernsey and Morgan counties.

The Northstar well, which had been operated by D&L Energy, was discovered to have triggered a series of earthquakes from March 2011 to January 2012. A moratorium has been in place since 2012 on injection wells within a five-mile radius of Northstar.

The moratorium remains in place and Northstar is regularly inspected, ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce assured.

Despite the moratorium, the Northstar well still has a legal permit, Bruce explained; as such, if a company requests the well in the event it is somehow reopened -- something Bruce does not see as likely in the near term -- ODNR can’t refuse the request.

“Revoking a permit is a permanent thing. It is a permanent thing that cannot be undone,” Bruce added. “We’ve never felt that revoking the permit is the proper course of action,” in the event technology would be developed to permit the safe use of the well. That isn’t seen as likely in the near future but revoking the permit is “not the proper course of action either,” he said. 

Representatives of both companies said they didn’t expect to use the Ohio wells.

Rusty Wells, operations supervisor with WTC Gas Field Services, said under the plan, set up with ODNR before he was employed in his current position, a customer would have requested where the brine would be hauled. “We have not hauled to Ohio for the last 18 months” and the company doesn’t anticipate doing so in the near future, he said.

“We have no plans to haul any brine to Ohio. We don’t want anything to do with it,” said Michael Zentz, president of West Penn Energy Services.

Also during the news conference, held outside City Hall, Beiersdorfer called attention to an order increasing the maximum allowable injection pressure at the Weathersfield Township saltwater injection well operated by American Water Management Services LLC, Warren, from 1,025 pounds per square inch to 1,200 psi.

“The Youngstown well was over 2,400 [psi] when it was triggering the earthquakes, so it’s nowhere near as high pressure and so it may or may not be a concern,” Beiersdorfer said.  “We just wanted to make the media aware of this.”

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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