Several Ohio-based community organizations, including some with Athens County ties, have asked the United States Environmental Protection Agency to revoke the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ primacy for Class II injection wells.
The petition was discussed Friday during a press call with impacted residents and legal experts, national and Ohio-based community organizations and environmental groups.
Earthjustice, a nonprofit dedicated to litigating environmental issues, sent the petition on Oct. 11. It asks EPA to initiate procedures to revoke Ohio’s Class II injection well program and initiate a “rulemaking to implement a program that protects the people of Ohio and the environment.”
They also asked that the program addresses systematic public participation and environmental justice issues.
People from communities around Ohio have been involved in the protests of injections wells being permitted by ODNR. That includes Athens County residents, many of which are from Torch and Stewart.
“We have fought for years against the assault on our communities by the oil and gas industry and extraordinary lack of oversight and transparency by the Department of Natural Resources,” said Roxanne Groff, a member of Athens County’s Future Action Network (ACFAN). “The petition spells out in detail, the facts of the negligence by the regulatory agency.”
While ODNR has changed the public hearing process, the public’s opinion is still null and void, according to Lenny Eliason, Athens County commissioner, in a press release.
“In the end, regulators still don’t act after the public’s input on safety issues and concerns,” he said. “ODNR’s enforcement is slow or non-existent — we have had opened wells for a number of years that are supposed to be closed down and covered up, but this process was never done. So why is it that in Ohio it’s easier and quicker to get a well permitted than it is in states that are regulated by the federal EPA? For these many reasons it is important to take our experiences into account in evaluating whether or not primacy should be removed from Ohio.”
In a press release, the petitioners claim that for years ODNR failed to meet requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The state agency also failed to carry out its environmental justice obligations under federal laws and Executive Orders for Class II disposal wells in the state of Ohio.
“This has resulted in a failure to protect environmental justice communities located in Appalachian Ohio or to ensure oil and gas operators pay the full price of their waste disposal,” the press release said.
Ohio’s Class II disposal wells include conventional brine injection wells, annular disposal wells, and enhanced oil recovery injection wells, according to the ODNR.
The petition says Class II wells are disproportionately located in low-income Appalachian communities and harbor toxins such as radioactive materials (e.g. Radium 226 & 228), per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and high levels of salts, benzene, barium and more.
Until the EPA requires Ohio to correct the problems identified in the petition, the state will continue to manage its Class II wells in a manner that “endangers underground sources of drinking water, disproportionately impacts low-income Appalachian Ohioans, and deprives those most impacted by Class II disposal wells of the opportunity to participate in major decisions,” said James Yskamp, senior attorney at Earthjustice. “We’re calling on EPA to use its oversight ability to reclaim enforcement authority over Class II injection wells in the state and protect Ohio’s communities and underground sources of drinking water.”
The petition, filed by the Buckeye Environmental Network, Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and 30 community organizations, aims to ensure that the decision- making process over injecting harmful, radioactive liquids that could end up in Ohio’s waterways considers the communities most impacted and the environment.
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