Staff at Ohio University’s Voinovich School are hoping to find funding to expand a water sampling project being conducted near injection wells located in Athens County.

On Tuesday, Jen Bowman and Natalie Kruse Daniels from the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, met with the Athens County Commissioners to update them on the current testing program. The county contracted with the school to conduct the study for $15,637, the idea being to determine the current condition of private water wells near injection wells in case there is a contamination incident in the future.

Injection wells are used to dispose of saltwater and other waste from oil and gas production wells. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ stance is that they do not pose a threat to ground water, but environmentalists are concerned. Athens County currently has eight injection wells, with an application pending for a ninth.

Testing of water wells was done this fall, and will be repeated in March.

Bowman said four water wells were tested in Troy Twp., three in the River Road area, one on Ladd Ridge Road and one on Baker Road.

Bowman said tests for volatile organic compounds — which, if present, might indicate oil and gas influence — came back as below detection levels, with the exception of methane at one of the River Road water wells.

“There was a little bit of methane detected, but it was below the maximum contaminate level, so nothing that would harm ...,” she said.

Bowman indicated she is concerned that so few water wells are being tested.

“That’s not really enough, not enough at all, to show any sort of statistical confidence,” Bowman said.

“What do we do about that? asked Commissioner Charlie Adkins. “It’s worthless legally, probably, if we don’t do more.”

Bowman said she intends to submit a grant application to the Sugar Bush Foundation.

“We’re going to request additional funds to do more sampling. I don’t know if it will be funded or not,” Bowman said. “There’s more people who want their water sampled that are living near injections wells, that’s why we are seeking more funding. We see there is a need there to have more data collected.”

Kruse Daniels said it’s also hoped that funding can be arranged to develop a water quality alert system that would detect surface water contamination downstream from injection wells in case there is a spill.

Bowman said the desire for a detection system was prompted by biological sampling that OU did in Skunk Run in Troy Twp., where Athens Conservancy has a nature preserve. The stream tested as high quality. It is below a K&H Partners injection well site.

Adkins said he thinks a monitoring program needs to be put together that would garner support in more than just Athens County, so that the County Commissioners Association of Ohio and other groups can lobby the state to enact a tax on the waste being injected. Income from the tax could fund monitoring efforts.

Commissioner Lenny Eliason was asked the likelihood of that being accomplished.

“It’s a tall order,” he replied.

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