By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
Some 70 Brookfield Township residents Wednesday night peppered geologists, industry experts and township trustees with questions about the safety and potential long-term impact of a proposed saltwater injection well that’s about to be drilled on McMullen Road and state Route 7.
The well will be used to pump about 1,200 barrels a day of fracking wastewater from Pennsylvania down deep into the earth, where geologists and drillers insist it will safely disperse into porous rock. The two zones where it will be pumped lie miles below the water table, where drinking water comes from, and also below an impermeable layer of granite that will prevent it from escaping, according to Bob Barnett, president of American Energy in Cortland, Ohio, the company granted a permit to drill the 8,500-foot well.
Lindell Bridges, a geologist and president of Pure Earth Resources Inc. of Sharpsville, gave the audience a mini-geology lesson, discussing the rock formations underground and the likelihood of earthquakes as they relate to oil and gas drilling.
Barnett said that while the issue of drilling a well tends to become an emotional one, particularly if people are basing their opinions on misinformation, he acknowledged that the alleged bad practices of D&L Energy have also tainted the public’s perception.
D&L is accused of causing a series of earthquakes in the Youngstown area in 2012, due in large part, Barnett said, by ignoring warning signs that the well was not taking in water as it should. “That guy ignored the high pressure warnings and didn’t treat it. He drilled down into granite, where he wasn’t allowed to, and it wouldn’t take the water and he kept right on pumping it in anyway. Those were man-made problems. The state knows that and they shut it down. And folks, he’s going to jail,” Barnett said.
He assured residents he would pump well below the pressures authorized by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and do it quietly and safely, meeting and exceeding state regulations. “I’m not worried about an earthquake. Not in the least,” he said.
As far as contamination, Barnett said, people have more to fear from the salt spread on the roads during winter, pesticides used by farmers, acid from coal mines, leaky septic systems and garbage seeping from landfills harming the drinking water than from the saltwater brine. “We’re going to pump it deep down into the earth, nowhere near drinking water. It won’t hurt anything,” he said.
Barnett also said he would not be building an open pit to hold the wastewater before it was pumped. “No, absolutely not. That’s a whole other set of problems.”
Catherine Kasiewcz, who lives across the street from the proposed site, wasn’t convinced. “I’m not against this economic boom that they say is coming. But I am against the location of this well. It’s right near our water tower, a half a mile from the school. What are you going to do to prevent an earthquake? And if there’s an earthquake, who’s going to pay for the damage? Do you want to live in my house then?”
Barnett said if there is an earthquake, even a tremor, “I’ll shut it down right now. Because something is wrong.” He said he’s operated similar wells in other parts of Ohio with no problems at all.
Another man, who identified himself as Joe, said, “I’m not against drilling. I’m against it being a half-mile from the school. I have children. Do you have children? You are locating this in the wrong place. This is greed for the almighty dollar, that’s what this is. It’s all about greed. Man is killing himself. We have all this autism now and what will we have 15 or 20 years from now? Toxic-well children?”
Dr. Ray Biersdorfer, a geologist at Youngstown State University, said he has multiple concerns about the validity of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources being the final authority on issuance of permits, because ODNR gets money for each gallon of wastewater dumped in Ohio.
“It’s a clear conflict of interest for them to be a regulatory agency while receiving revenue from that source,” he said. He said it was “evident” that drilling practices, however inept, caused the earthquakes in Youngstown, and yet ODNR wouldn’t agree that there was problem until more than 13 earthquakes took place.
“We were here for 250 years without an earthquake, and 13 days after they start drilling, we have an earthquake. Now that’s certainly a testable hypothesis, but they wouldn’t test it,” he said.
Other residents expressed concerns about dropping property values, as well as safety risks. “You got all these trucks coming over here now and all it takes is one minor accident and we’ve got a big problem,” one man said.
Another resident asked the trustees what benefit the well would be to Brookfield. “Is there something in it for us? Is there some reason we should favor this?”
Trustee Gary P. Lees said he’s been asking himself the same question. “I know that the state gets their share of revenue from this, but what about the townships? What do we get?”
The three-man board acknowledged, however, that they are powerless when it comes to stopping the drilling. “For that, you have to talk to your legislators. They make the laws. We don’t.”