The federal Environmental Appeals Board has rejected permits on two disposal wells in Columbus Township, citing an inadequate account of drinking water wells within the area.
The Environmental Protection Agency approved permits for the disposal wells last June, and residents Tom Stroup and Bill Peiffer filed a petition for review last July which EPA Region III Assistant Regional Counsel Nina Rivera said was not warranted.
Bear Lake Properties, the owner of the wells, were permitted to inject waste water from drilling into a depleted gas zone within the Medina Formation at depth between 4,200 and 4,300 feet.
As part of its application, Bear Lake Properties had to provide the EPA with a map that included drinking water wells, and during the public hearing in March 2011, commenters questioned whether drinking water wells had been properly surveyed by the company and the EPA.
The EPA had Bear Lake Properties did another survey of water wells near the area after the public comment period. In their appeal, Stroup and Peiffer said that even after the survey, "the Region has still failed to survey water wells" and the EPA "...clearly erred by relying on inaccurate and insufficient information when making its permit determination."
In its decision, the EAB said the EPA did not adequately survey water wells but rejected five other issues in Stroup's and Peiffer's appeal, including the failure to account for the depth of water wells in Columbus Township, the number of as wells in the area, the population growth in the township and possible adverse economic impacts, the potential for earthquakes and accepting late-filed comments for the draft permit.
"The Region had a responsibility to ensure that accurate data as to drinking water wells within the area of review of the proposed injection wells were identified and considered," the EAB said in its decision. "In particular, the Region failed to clearly articulate its regulatory obligations or compile a record sufficient to assure the public that the Region relied on accurate and appropriate data in satisfying its obligations. The permit is therefore remanded. Review is denied on all other issues.
"In particular, the Region has utterly failed to clearly articulate its regulatory obligations or compile a record sufficient to assure the public that the region relied on accurate and appropriate data in satisfying its obligations. Indeed, the Region has failed to clearly articulate what data it relied upon in making its determination."
The EPA Region III will now review the permits and make the findings available for public review and open for comment.
"They would like to have us say 'hey what the heck, sorry we bothered you' and hang it up, but that's not going to happen," Stroup said. "Our position on this thing...there's very little benefit and one heck of a lot of risk for this township and the area. We can't see where the benefit would exceed the risk and that's why we are going to stay there."
Bear Lake Properties reached an agreement with two property owners to operate the injection wells on their property for two cents per barrel injected last year, according to documents from the Warren County Register and Recorder office.
The agreement included 59.71 and 254 acres of land for operation of the wells on their property and both sites will not exceed 30,000 barrels a month.
Peiffer, his attorneys Emily Collins and Oday Salim, the President of Bear Lake Properties Karl Kimmich, and the Columbus Township supervisors were not available for comment.