Ohio environmental regulators investigating the source of brine that began shooting from a gas well in Noble County and continued to flow for almost two weeks before contractors were able to stop it.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) said preliminary testing indicates that the fluid was brine, which is a highly salty water that is produced during the hydraulic fracturing process and can contain chemicals, metals and radioactive substances. Brine can also be produced naturally from oil and gas operations that do not involve fracking, and the source of the spill is not yet known, according to a statement from Sarah Wickham, ODNR chief of communications.
Contractors brought in by ODNR have so far collected about 40,000 barrels of fluid during their mitigation efforts.
The ODNR was notified of the spill on Jan 24 and contractors were called in to build an emergency containment system, and begin mitigation efforts to prevent fluid from flowing into a nearby stream. However, about 500 fish and other aquatic species were killed.
Within 48 hours, ODNR instructed the contractors to build a “more substantial system of containment structures, pipes and storage tanks to prevent the fluid from entering the environment,” until the flow was finally stopped on Feb. 4. The vertical well, Ohio Power/Gant 17-69, is owned by Genesis Resources of Parkersburg, W.Va.
The well is located only a few miles from three underground injection wells, where fracking wastewater that can no longer be reused is injected into deep geological formations. Ohio is home to more than 200 injection wells, and much of Pennsylvania’s fracking waste is sent there. There are just 10 injection wells in Pennsylvania.
In 2019, brine from an injection well in Washington County, Ohio, migrated to three producing wells at least five miles away. Washington County sits just to the south of Noble County in eastern Ohio.
Efforts to add more injection wells in Pennsylvania have been met with opposition from environmental groups. Plans to put an injection well in Indiana County stalled after a legal fight with the township and an environmental group, while the state Department of Environmental Protection in 2020 approved plans for well in Plum Borough, Allegheny County, after a six-year battle.
These types of wells are often controversial, as there is research indicating that they may negatively affect groundwater quality and cause unintended seismic activity in the area near the well, and Ohio’s experience may prove valuable in determining their future use in Pennsylvania.