ODNR Confirms Earthquakes due to Fracking Waste Injection Wells
It is confirmed that the 12 earthquakes that rocked Youngstown last year were caused by injection wells that were used as disposal sites for waste fluids produced by deep shale drilling. So says a preliminary report released March 9 by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
One day after State Representative Jay Goyal (D-Mansfield) introduces legislation to update Ohio’s Oil and Gas Drilling waste Injection Wells, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) released its report on the Youngstown earthquakes and announced changes to Ohio’s injection well rules.
ODNR deserves credit for utilizing outside experts and making positive recommendations, such as limiting injection well pressure and depth, that would help keep this from happening again, and require that waste haulers install electronic transponders to ensure “cradle to grave” monitoring of all shipments.
But it is important to put these “get tough” proposals into context. The context is this: instead of preventative maintenance, Ohio seems to prefer to wait for things to break and then scramble to fix them.
These earthquakes are just one example. Although it is a very rare thing for an injection well to cause an earthquake, there have been other confirmed earthquakes caused by deep injection wells in other states over the last few years. During that time, Ohio kept on drilling these wells at a faster and faster pace. If you continually play with fire, you will, eventually, get burnt.
We commend ODNR for taking this necessary action. However, we should have done these studies before injecting millions of gallons of high-pressure fluid into the ‘basement rock.’
In the same way—why, for example, are we not monitoring water quality around these injection wells? It’s true that the wells have never been proven to be unsafe or prone to leaks. Then again, we haven’t really been monitoring them that closely. It would be fairly cheap to put in a few water quality monitoring wells up front to make sure everything’s going smoothly, and to catch any leaks in the early stages. It would not be fairly cheap to deal with millions of gallons waste fluids leaking into our drinking water.
And yet the ODNR seems to feel comfortable resting on the assumption the wells are 100 percent leak-proof, just as they previously assumed that the wells would never cause an earthquake.
ODNR is missing the fundamental point—reduce the chance of environmental problems by reducing the amount of waste to be injected. The technology to recycle and reuse most of this waste exists. Less waste means less need for injection wells, and fewer earthquakes.
These earthquakes also raise concerns about local control. The public and local governments should be involved in deciding where these injection wells should go. If the well might cause an earthquake, we at Ohio Environmental Council think that is a matter of public concern that should go before local decision makers.
Representative Jay Goyal (D-Mansfield) has introduced a bill to the General Assembly that would do all of these things. We urge the General Assembly to pass the bill as quickly as possible, to get these laws on the books. Because, here’s the big picture, ODNR’s proposals are a nice first step. But there is still no indication that the State of Ohio is willing to take a step back and think about the big picture of laying down pro-active, protective regulations that will prevent bad things from happening in the first place. And Rep. Goyal’s bill would be a first step towards that change of philosophy that might result in adequate protections for our health and our environment.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.