March of last year was the last time residents filled the Columbus Township Fire Hall for a public hearing with repersentatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Over 200 residents attended that meeting and submitted over 350 questions to the federal agency that oversees the permitting of injection wells throughout the commonwealth. The state Department of Environmental Protection, which concentrates on above-ground issues, was also at Wednesday evening's meeting.
Bear Lake Properties, the company that owns the wells, was given permission by the EPA on Nov. 29 to inject waste water from drilling into a depleted gas zone within the Medina Formation at a depth between 4,200 and 4,300 feet..
Officials from the EPA and the DEP told the residents of Columbus Township and the surrounding communities they would hold another hearing to answer their questions about the permitting process.
While the number of people who attended Wednesday's meeting was far less than last year, residents did not come empty-handed.
Many of the questions residents had were similar to the ones they asked over a year ago.
"I understand there are some old wells near the Tamarack Swamp which are unkempt and are still open that are not being used. Is it possible for this stuff to bubble up out of the ground and pollute the land?" one resident asked.
Karen Johnson from EPA's groundwater and enforcement branch said the agency calculated an area of review of one quarter mile in which any unplugged well must be plugged for the injection site to operate.
"We determine if it's within the area of review and we determine what has to be done with those wells," she said.
"Did the Bear Lake Properties do seismic testing prior to construction?" another asked.
Johnson said there are naturally occurring seismic activities with "uplift" around the Great Lakes. "We've checked to find the occurrence of tremors in this area have not been associated with oil and gas activity," she said.
Johnson said the fluids are injected into depleted gas-bearing sands that have the capacity to absorb and repressurize the existing formations.
"The permittee is not permitted to fracture the injection formation," Johnson said. "You must either propogate existing fractures or create new fractures in order for seismic activity to slip on a fault. If you're not causing fractures, you're not going to cause seismic activity, generally."
"Why isn't this called a waste transfer station?" another resident asked.
The Oil and Gas Act has an exemption for solid waste requirements where there needs to be storage at the site to be a transfer facility, Craig Lobins, DEP program director, said.
"At the point they are offloading. They are not storing any waste there," he said.
"Why are there tanks up there then?" another resident asked.
"Those tanks are not being used; they're just parked in their parking lot. Those tanks you see up there are not going to be used. I don't know why those tanks are there, but they are not going to be used for this," Lobins said.
Johnson said the wells passed mechanical integrity tests while EPA was on site Tuesday and the state needs to issue change of use permits before the site can start operating.