By SPENCER HUNT
The Columbus Dispatch
Fracking wastewater lagoons the size of football fields could dot eastern Ohio as state officials draft rules for the storage sites.
Oil and gas drillers use the lagoons to store millions of gallons of water contaminated with fracking chemicals, toxic metals and radium that come up from shale wells. Companies clean the water of pollutants so it can be recycled to frack new wells.
“We are putting in a process to outline their standards of construction and their length of use,” said Mark Bruce, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
A provision in the most-recent state budget requires Natural Resources officials to create rules and permits for them. Similar lagoons are common in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Environmental advocates called the lagoons a threat to groundwater and streams.
“At the very least, it’s an environmental health concern,” said Trent Dougherty, an Ohio Environmental Council attorney.
Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said the lagoons would be built with plastic liners to prevent leaks. He said treatment operations would strip out harmful pollutants.
“They want to clean it up and use it again,” Stewart said. “That means getting the water back to as fresh a state as possible.”
The fracking process pumps millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand underground to shatter the shale and free trapped oil and gas. Some of that fracking water comes back up.
Recycling the wastewater reduces the amount of fresh water that companies must obtain to frack new wells. It also cuts the amount of wastewater sent to Ohio disposal wells.
A West Virginia University study of 15 waste and freshwater lagoons in that state found several problems. Eight were built to contain more water than permitted or had structural problems that threatened leaks.
The largest of the West Virginia lagoons can hold 18.2 million gallons - enough to fill 29 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Dougherty said he is particularly interested in how long wastewater can stay in the Ohio lagoons.
“There is a point in time when temporary storage can become long-term storage,” he said.
In Pennsylvania, wastewater must be removed within nine months of competed drilling at a site, said Lisa Kasianowitz, a Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman. The state has permits for 23 such lagoons.