ODNR Proposes to Tighten Rules Governing Brine Disposal Wells

Shale Energy Update

Date: March 13, 2012

Overview

On March 9, 2012, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced its intent to propose new rules designed to tighten the regulatory framework governing Class II underground injection wells in Ohio. This is in response to a series of low magnitude earthquakes (which ranged from 2.0 to 4.0 on the Richter scale) that occurred over the last year in the northeast corner of the state. Along with this announcement, ODNR released the preliminary results of its nine-month study of these earthquakes, in which it concluded that they were almost certainly the result of the injection of oil and gas liquid wastes into the Northstar 1 underground injection well located near Youngstown.

Regulations adopted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) pursuant to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 establish five classes of underground injection wells, as well as minimum regulatory requirements a state must meet in order to administer the federal underground injection control (UIC) program. Class II injection wells are those that receive liquid wastes produced in oil and gas exploration and production activities. USEPA first delegated the administration of the federal UIC program to Ohio in 1983. Ohio currently has 177 operating Class II underground injection wells.

When finalized, ODNR's proposed rules will:

  • Prohibit any new Class II wells from being drilled into what is called the "Precambrian basement rock formation" in Ohio. "Precambrian" is an informal term used by geologists to refer to rock formations that were deposited before the beginning of the Cambrian Era, approximately 570 million years ago. Precambrian rocks are buried deeply in Ohio - anywhere from 2,500 feet below current sea level in western Ohio to 13,000 feet below current sea level in southeastern Ohio. The term "basement" is used because these rocks form the foundation for the overlying, largely sedimentary Paleozoic rock formations that were deposited later.
  • Require a review of existing geological data for known fault areas within Ohio and prohibit new Class II wells from being drilled in known fault areas (ODNR believes the Northstar 1 Class II well was drilled through a previously unknown fault).
  • Require that a complete suite of geophysical logs (including, at a minimum, gamma ray, compensated density neutron and resistivity logs) be submitted to ODNR for newly drilled Class II wells.
    Authorize ODNR to order that existing Class II wells that penetrate into the Precambrian basement rock formation be plugged.
  • Amend the Class II permit application requirements to include the submission of any information publicly available concerning the existence of known geological faults within a specified distance of a proposed well.
  • Amend the Class II permit application requirements to include the submission of a plan for monitoring any seismic activity that may occur after well installation.
  • Evaluate the potential for conducting seismic surveys, possibly of the sort used by petroleum engineers to study rock formations to locate potential oil and gas reservoirs.
  • Require the measurement or calculation of original "down-hole" reservoir pressure prior to initial injection.
  • Require that a "step-rate" injection test be conducted.
  • Require the installation of a continuous pressure monitoring system, with results electronically available to ODNR for review.
  • Require the installation of an automatic shut-off system to stop the injection of fluids if fluid injection pressure exceeds a minimum level to be set by ODNR.
  • Require the installation of an electronic data recording system to track all fluids brought to a Class II well for injection.

All of these requirements will be included as terms and conditions of all new Class II well permits issued by ODNR until they are included in statutory law or final administrative regulations adopted by ODNR. When adopted, these new rules will be the strictest of their kind within the United States. Further, they will have a significant impact on shale development, not only in Ohio, but throughout the entire country.

The complete study results as well as an executive summary can be found on the ODNR website.