Omni Energy Group is looking to construct a series of vertical injection wells -- essentially permanent -- underground dumps for the incredibly toxic, residual wastewater generated from natural gas fracking operations in the residential heart of Belmont County.
The proposed well is to be situated at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Ohio 331. Citizens in the area are understandably concerned.
Although commonly labeled by the industry as “brine water,” the waste product from natural gas fracking contains far more than salt. In fact, it is filled with human carcinogens like benzene and toxic heavy metals like arsenic and lead. But an even bigger concern for residents living among these storage wells is this wastewater is highly radioactive.
The radioactive element radium is present in this wastewater in quantities that can be thousands of times the EPA’s safe drinking water limit and America’s oil and gas wells are currently producing this wastewater at a rate of nearly 1 trillion gallons a year. Deepwell injections sites like the ones being pushed in Belmont County generate tremendous truck traffic with the potential for dozens of highly radioactive trucks traversing throughout Richmond Township and its surrounding areas, risking the health and well-being of its citizens, all day every day. People are right to be very concerned. But a recent and novel development in nearby Grant Township, Pennsylvania gives cause for hope, and should be on the radar of every Belmont County citizen who opposes Omni’s permit attempts.
For seven years, the community of Grant Township has been fighting to stop the permit for an injection well similar to that Omni is proposing to construct in Belmont County. Recently, in a remarkable reversal, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which had been suing Grant Township for interfering with the agency’s authority to administer state oil-and-gas policy, revoked the injection well permit. So, how did Grant Township do it? By seeking legal rights for nature itself.
At play in Grant Township was whether the community itself -- including its streams, soils, and species -- have the right to block a corporation from depositing its waste. In the course of its legal battle with the DEP, Grant Township adopted an ordinance that established its right to local self-government and took the forward-looking step of enacting a home-rule charter, made possible by a 1972 state act to give more power to municipal governments. That act recognized nature has rights and declaring injection wells would be an illegal infringement upon those rights. While the full spectrum of factors that prompted the DEP’s permit reversal is not yet entirely clear, it is notable the court presiding over the litigation recently entered an order refusing to dismiss the case in the DEP’s favor and making clear it would hear the township’s argument for why frack waste would violate its constitutional rights. Regardless, the DEP’s reversal here is potentially a game-changer for communities opposed to waste water injection operations in their back yard.
Hopefully the community of Belmont County can follow this lead and protect the health and safety of its citizens, wildlife, soil, water and air too.