In the past several weeks, state regulators in Ohio and Pennsylvania have begun to approve long-stalled permit applications for proposed disposal wells. The wells, known in regulatory parlance as Class II underground injection wells, could be used to dispose of flowback wastes generated from hydraulically-fractured shale wells.
Two weeks ago, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) issued approvals for four new injection wells — two in Washington County, one in Athens County, and one in Portage County. The permits are notable because they are the first ODNR has issued since the December 31, 2011 earthquake near Youngstown, Ohio. Earlier this year we provided analysis of ODNR’s March 2012 report on the Youngstown earthquake, which proposed updates to the state’s disposal well regulations, as well as Governor John Kasich’s July 10 executive order authorizing ODNR to adopt emergency regulations for disposal wells. ODNR currently has 179 permitted disposal wells, not including the new four, and 31 additional disposal well applications remain pending with the agency. Local coverage of ODNR’s permit approvals can be found here, here, here, and here.
In contrast, while Ohio has the ability to run its own disposal well permitting program, Pennsylvania does not — meaning that the U.S. EPA must approve all new injection wells in the state. To date only five permitted and operating Class II disposal wells exist in the state that take wastewater from oil and gas operations. But earlier this month EPA issued two draft permits for new Class II wells in Pennsylvania, and opened the permits up for public comment. NPR’s State Impact blog has provided helpful background information on the two permit applications, along with copies of the draft permits.