Fracking Athens (College Project)

From August 2014 to December 2014 I worked on a months long project to identify all the different dynamics of the fracking industry in Southeast, Ohio. I talked to hundreds of community members in and around Athens County from lawyers to activists to homeowners to students about their concerns, fears, and human rights. Through my exploration of the many complexities of this environmental issue, I hope to have raised some awareness about hydraulic fracturing in Ohio. 

An Exploration of Athens County Injection Wells

Today, I went on an exploration of fracking in Athens County and saw four injection well sites.

Ginsburg Injection Well site.

Ginsburg Injection Well site.

The first was the Ginsburg Well, located on Ladd Ridge Rd. in Alexander Twp. It was originally an oil well and after its exhaustion in the early 1980s, it was converted into an injection well, a place for corporations to unload and compress their wastewater (from fracking) deep into the ground. The Ginsburg Well is assumed to be 18-20 thousand feet deep and is connected to a "surface pool" which holds the wastewater and is filled atleast once a day. The well is constantly pumping the water from that pool into the ground. As of right now, the well is only seeing wastewater from Ohio. It receives quite a bit of opposition from local groups like Appalachia Resist! and Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) for its lack of safety measures and inability to pass basic maintenance testing. 

Hahn Paul Injection well site.

Hahn Paul Injection well site.

The second well on the exploration was the Hahn Paul Well, located on Route 329 in Guysville. It's significantly larger than the Ginsburg Well and has a storage tank for wastewaste. The wastewater from fracking is referred to as "brine." Brine is a salty, contaminated, radioactive substance, pretty far from what one might consider water. It is nearly impossible to filter it to the point that it can be drinkable again because of the salt. It is also extremely expensive and because it isn't required of fracking corporations to clean up the water they destroy, they don't. They also don't recycle it for new fracking operations because that is also costly. So, the solution is to pump it deep into the ground, removing it from the water cycle. An average frack job uses 5 million gallons of fresh water and local extraction wells take it straight from the Hocking River. The reason there aren't any regulations against using fresh water is due to a loop hole in the system which exempts oil and gas companies from 17 environmental laws. In fact, the restrictions are so minimal that they can easily ignore them and put human populations at risk of contamination. Contamination happens a lot of ways. Surface contamination happens when a storm hits and overflows the surface pools, causing the contaminated wastewater to trickle into the water supply. Also, when trucks transporting the wastewater get in accidents they pose danger on surrounding water supply. Many accidents also happen on injection well sites with spills. But the real question is, where does the wastewater migrate to once pumped thousands of feet below ground? The idea is that the clay layers in the ground prevent the wastewater from entering the water supply, but that is only a theory.

On a side note, earthquakes are becoming more and more common, especially in areas where fracking is taking place. One theory is that the lubricating chemicals that corporations are using to extract the oil are causing the earth to shift. 

The third injection well on the exploration was the Atha well, located in Coolville, OH. It has only been in operation as an injection site for a year. It smelled like bathroom cleaning chemicals and decay as a truck unloaded its waste into the well. Half a dozen large storage tanks sit adjacent to it. Dorothy Rader and her husband live three miles from this site and are terrified of what may happen in the future.

Dorothy Rader and her husband outside of the Atha Injection Well site. 

Dorothy Rader and her husband outside of the Atha Injection Well site. 

"They see money, they see dollar signs, and we see danger,” Mrs. Rader said. She has been fighting for the health and safety of Coolville for many years, beginning with the hindrance of a medical waste incinerator back in the early 1990s. For four years Rader and the Concerned Citizens of the Coolville Area (CCCA) fought in court against the incinerator and ended up winning. But, Rader now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of all of the opposition she faced, a lot of which was from her neighbors. "We had threats, we had intimidation, we had it all," she said. Now, they are facing a new kind of monster, fracking.

Truck unloading brine into the injection well. 

Truck unloading brine into the injection well. 

Coolville is one of the poorest areas of Athens County and many of the people are elderly and disabled, making it an easy target for fracking corporations to take over.  “We’re just those little, expendable people,” Rader said with tears in her eyes. Her once quiet street is now teeming with trucks, she once saw 17 in one day. Although it is unknown if the waste is from outside of Ohio, Rader says she frequently sees trucks with out-of-state license plates, some of which are from as far away as Texas. Rader does receive a small check once a month of around $100 but it is little compensation for the stress she has dealt with. “I blame the state of Ohio and the Federal government,” she said. 

K&H Partners LLC. injection well. 

K&H Partners LLC. injection well. 

The final well on the tour was the K&H Partners LLC. injection well, the largest in Athens County and soon to be largest in Ohio. The land it sits on was originally sold to K&H for "hunting ground" but as you can see in the picture, that was a lie. There are aproximately 10 large tanks and two injection sites, with plans to build more infrastructure in the near future. These wells only go about 4000 feet deep, a fairly short distance compared to the others. About fifty trucks a day unload here day and night from all across the country. This facility has dual pipe casings and engineering controls which are suspposed to monitor the pipes for any leaks by detecting pressure changes. But, dozens of signs and the not-so-friendly security patrol made us aware we weren't welcome at the site.  

Through my exploration of fracking in Athens I hope to educate people on the effects it has on the health and safety of communities. Return frequently or follow my blog for more updates as I continue to research this controversy from all sides. 

All photos by Cassie Kelly.