BROOKFIELD TOWNSHIP – In the past year, Dana Basse boosted her home insurance by adding earthquake coverage for her Brookfield home.
"When companies began drilling for natural gas around Youngstown five years ago, we felt the earthquakes they had here,'' she said.
Basse, 73, is among 300 residents of Wyngate Manor, a manufactured home park adjacent to the injection well site. The park's residents have been the most vocal opponents of using the injection wells.
Highland Field Services has begun storing waste water from hydraulic fracture drilling into its two injection wells in the township near Wyngate Manor. Basse said she is concerned about the material being pumped into the ground.
"We don't know what chemicals they're using,'' the retired registered nurse said of the waste water. "It's going to get into the environment, and nobody knows what the long-term effects are.''
Five years ago, communities and residents in the Youngstown area complained that drilling was causing mini-earthquakes in those areas.
In 2014, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued stronger permit conditions for drilling near faults or areas of past seismic activity. "The new policies are in response to recent seismic events in Poland Township (Mahoning County) that show a probable connection to hydraulic fracturing near a previously unknown microfault,'' ODNR reported on its website.
Highland has secured all of the permits needed to operate the injection wells, said Adam Schroeder, a public information officer for ODNR. Also, Schroeder said the pressure the company is using to inject materials into the ground is 500 pounds per square inch below the agency's required maximum level.
"They are well within compliance,'' he said.
Schroeder said ODNR inspectors randomly stop at the site to check if Highland is in compliance with regulations.
"Our inspectors have their own gauges to check the well pressures,'' Schroeder said. "And we can continue doing this for the life of the wells.''
As another backup, Ohio has 89 monitoring stations that constantly measure seismic levels.
"If we believe there's any seismic activity pertaining to injection we can ask they decrease the pressure or even shut them down completely,'' Schroeder said.
Fracking involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into rock to break it and release trapped oil and gas. The drilling industry mainly uses brine water in its drilling process. But the water also contains other chemicals that are part of the waste material. That waste is then disposed of in injection wells.
Rob Boulware, a spokesman for Highland, said last week the company began using the wells to inject waste materials.
"Our permits dictate how many barrels a day can be injected into any well,'' Boulware said. "We also have to follow certain pressures for wells. If it goes out of range we have to stop injecting.''
He said the company has been in the fracking industry for years and has developed safe procedures.
"We always minimize the impact of water disposal,'' he said. "Our first option is always to recycle until we get to the point where we're unable to do that,'' Boulware said.
Highland has offered to give tours of the well site to community leaders, including Brookfield trustees, he added. But so far none have taken advantage of the offer, Boulware said.
Brookfield Trustee Dan Suttles said he's concerned about the wells. Suttles was a captain in the Warren, Ohio, fire department who retired a couple of years ago.
"The companies insist they're not injecting toxic substances,'' Suttles said. "And then there's a concern about where all of that liquid goes.''
Suttles also is concerned that Brookfield firefighters might have to go to the wells to put out a fire or handle other accidents.
"If you use the wrong material in putting out a fire there it could make the situation worse and be a danger for our fire department,'' he said.
Should an accident happen, Boulware said the company would immediately offer an expert to assist emergency crews.
Suttles said Boulware's assertion offers little comfort.
"In the time it takes for their expert to get to us could be too late,'' Suttles responded. "I'm very frustrated by all this. And I'm very concerned for our residents.''
In the meantime Basse said she'll continue the fight to close the wells.
"That's all we can do – keep on fighting,'' she said.
Basse was among the first tenants to place her home in the park when it opened 51 years ago and she worries about chemicals that might flow into the environment.
"I'm a tree-hugger,'' she said. "All of us are the stewards of the Earth. You want to leave the land in good condition for the generations that follows us.''