The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

January 25, 2014

Conneaut, county awaiting word on brine well permit

CONNEAUT — Local officials are still awaiting word from Columbus regarding a Cortland company’s application to dig a salt brine injection well on property south of Interstate 90 in Conneaut.

“We’ve heard nothing and I don’t think we will hear anything,” City Manager Tim Eggleston said Friday.

Likewise Ashtabula County government, according to Commissioner Daniel Claypool. “We have not heard anything from (Ohio Department of Natural Resources),” he said.

The commissioners have sent three letters to the ODNR requesting a public hearing regarding the Conneaut application from American Energy Inc., as well as plans to extend an injection well in Windsor Township, Claypool said Friday. “When (Columbus) didn’t respond, the commissioners filed a letter of objection,” he said.

On Friday, ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said the public comment period ended Monday and the agency will devote plenty of time to a review of American Energy’s application.

“ODNR staff will thoroughly review every comment or objection received as part of the review process,” Bruce said in an email message. “There is no timetable for completing the review; ODNR takes the necessary time to complete a thorough analysis of the permit.”

Meanwhile, the ODNR has flagged American Energy operations in the past, Bruce said in the email.

ODNR has issued three notices of violation for other American Energy locations,” he said. “Two have been corrected; one is outstanding and ODNR has ordered injection operations halted until the violations are corrected.”

American Energy president Robert Barnett could not be immediately reached for comment late Friday afternoon. A call to the company office in Cortland was not answered, and Barnett did not immediately respond to an email message.

Earlier this month, an ODNR spokesman said the agency needs “at minimum” 45 days to complete an application review. The application from American Energy Inc., was received Dec. 5, according to documents. When the state began its review is not known.

A legal notice in the Star Beacon this month said the state would accept comments on the application if received within 15 calendar days of the notice’s last publication date, which fell Jan. 5.

At issue is an application submitted by American Energy to dig a 6,500-foot injection well on property between Underidge and South Ridge roads and less than a half-mile east of Route 7, Barnett told City Council at a Jan. 13 meeting. The well would be situated on about five acres of land and would be accessed from Route 7.

The application stipulates the well would receive no more than 1,000 barrels of brine a day, which Barnett said was equivalent to about 10 tanker truckloads and would not operate at night. The brine would be pumped into porous rock deep in the earth at a pressure prescribed by the state, and the well shaft would be double-lined for a length of several hundred feet to prevent leaks into ground water sources, according to state regulations.

The project has generated sizable opposition; City Council recently passed a resolution opposing the project and neighbors have voiced concerns, fearing contamination, noise, seismic activity and negative impact on nearby Conneaut Creek. Others are skeptical of American Energy’s ability to comply with state rules regarding wells and the ODNR’s ability to enforce its own guidelines.

Barnett said the location was picked because it was near several active oil/gas drilling sites (brine is a byproduct of well-drilling) and is also close to the Pennsylvania border. It is possible the injection well would also accept brine from other states, he has said.

“It’s right in the center of everything,” Barnett said.

While the Environmental Protection Agency monitors injection wells in some states, the ODNR handles that task in Ohio. On its website, the agency says it was given the job because the state’s standards are stricter than the EPA.

With the loss of home-rule powers a few years ago, communities have little say on projects such as injection wells, officials have said. “You have an uphill battle” State Rep. John Patterson told City Council and concerned residents earlier this month.

On Friday, Claypool said the county continues to communicate with Patterson regarding the Conneaut and Windsor well projects. “We hope to move the process forward,” Claypool said.

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