Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Topics

clearfield county

Deep Injection Wells: How Drilling Waste Is Disposed Underground

Background

clearfield county

Courtesy of Marianne Atkinson

The Irvin deep injection well in Clearfield County is operated by Exco Resources.

Deep injection wells are also called brine disposal wells, and are officially known as class II underground injection wells. They can take any fluid related to oil and gas drilling, including frack waste water.

In Pennsylvania, the wells are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency through the Underground Injection Control Program (UIC). The EPA took over the task of permits, inspections and enforcement from state regulators in 1985.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there currently seven active deep injection wells for oil and gas waste in Pennsylvania. Three others have received permits from the EPA that either remain inactive or are being appealed.

The oil and gas industry uses injection wells to dispose of waste water, which has a high salt content, as well as chemicals, heavy metals, and radioactive material. Much of the frack water produced in Pennsylvania gets trucked to Ohio, which has more disposal wells. Water can also be treated at private treatment facilities. The process cleans most of the water, but at least some smaller amount of fluid, or solid “cake,” still needs to be injected back into the ground, or taken to a landfill. Prior to 1985, operators were allowed to dispose of brine in the state’s waterways.

No fracking is permitted with deep well injections. The wells are cased, and the waste water is sent thousands of feet below the surface, usually to a sandstone, or limestone formation.

Three of Pennsylvania’s deep injection wells are commercial, which means they can take water from any energy company. The others are permitted only to dispose of their own frack water. Some take as low as 4200 barrels per month, but most of them can take about 30,000 barrels a month. EXCO Resources operates two in Clearfield County. The EPA temporarily shut down one of those injection wells and fined the company in 2012 after the company noticed the well was leaking brine and continued injecting fluids into it for months without notifying the EPA.

Other operators include Bear Lake Properties, Columbia Gas, Cottonwood and CNX Gas. Those wells are in Beaver, Somerset and Warren counties. When it comes to pressure, the wells are permitted to take between 1300 to about 3200 pounds per square inch. The two newest permitted wells will be operated by Windfall oil in Clearfield County and by Seneca Resources in Elk County. But local officials and residents have challenged those permits and they’re currently under review. All ten permitted deep injection wells are in the western part of the state.

Lately, these types of deep injection wells have been linked to earthquakes in Texas, Arkansas and Ohio.

Latest Posts

EPA withholding release of report on earthquakes linked to disposal wells

The Environmental Protection Agency is holding back the release of a report on earthquakes related to drilling and related operations, EnergyWire reports.  A team of EPA officials has been looking into concerns that deep injection wells – where wastewater from oil and gas drilling is disposed underground – have caused a spate of earthquakes in [...]

EPA reconsiders permit for Clearfield County waste disposal well

The Environmental Protection Agency is reconsidering a permit for a drilling wastewater disposal well in Clearfield County, citing errors in its response to public concerns. The agency issued a permit to Windfall Oil and Gas Inc. in February to build the well in Brady Township. The company planned to inject up to 30,000 barrels of [...]

Elk County township prepares for battle against deep injection well

A small town in Northwest Pennsylvania is gearing up for what could potentially be a big battle against Seneca Resources over a drilling wastewater disposal well. In January, the Environmental Protection Agency approved Seneca’s application to operate a deep injection well in Highland Township – despite a local ordinance passed in 2013 banning such wells [...]

Ohio looks into whether fracking led to earthquakes

Officials in Ohio are looking into whether fracking operations may have led to earthquakes. Links between oil and gas production and increased earthquake activity have usually been related to disposal of wastewater in deep injection wells–not the fracking process itself. From the New York Times: The State Department of Natural Resources ordered work halted at [...]

EPA approves waste disposal well in Clearfield County

Federal environmental regulators issued a permit on Friday for an underground injection well in Clearfield County that will be used to dispose of oil and gas waste liquids. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the permit for Windfall Oil and Gas of Falls Creek, Pa. to build and operate a disposal well in Brady Township. The [...]

EPA approves fracking wastewater well in Elk County

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved an application by Seneca Resources to operate a deep injection disposal well in Elk County. The oil and gas industry uses these deep injection wells to dispose of wastewater, which has a high salt content, as well as chemicals, heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive material. From the [...]

DEP: Treatment plant must limit salty flow to Allegheny River

A Warren County treatment plant will have to stop sending salt-rich wastewater to the Allegheny River to meet the terms of a proposed enforcement agreement announced by environmental regulators today. Waste Treatment Corp. will have to pay a $25,000 fine and upgrade its plant to meet strict discharge limits for total dissolved solids and chlorides under the [...]

Coast Guard plans would allow transport of fracking wastewater on barges

The United States Coast Guard has a proposal to allow shale gas drillers to transport fracking waste water on barges. From the Pittsburgh Times Tribune: The Coast Guard did not cite environmental risks in its policy proposal but focused on the threat to barge workers. It may allow barge transport if companies analyze the chemicals [...]

Treatment plant disputes charges in lawsuit

Environmental regulators and a Warren County wastewater treatment plant are working toward a legal agreement to address harmful flows from the plant entering the Allegheny River. Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Gary Clark said the agency is working with Waste Treatment Corp. on a consent decree that will bring the plant into compliance with state [...]

Lawsuit: Treatment plant polluting river

A Warren County wastewater treatment plant is violating federal and state laws by discharging improperly treated oil and gas waste fluids into the Allegheny River, an environmental organization claimed in a federal lawsuit filed today. Clean Water Action filed the case against Waste Treatment Corp. in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania [...]

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »

Economy
Education