The first fracking waste injection well proposed in Fayette County was recently withdrawn after local opposition. Despite the proposal’s withdrawal, county residents say they’re “still trying to stay vigilant” and are working to cut off future avenues for injection well development.
The injection well, proposed by Virginia-based G2 STEM LLC in 2022, was to be located about 300 feet from the nearest home and serve to dispose of wastewater from fracking, also known as produced water or brine. Brine contains hazardous materials that may pose risks to groundwater and air quality and induce seismic activity.
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“It’s like your neighbor across the street was injecting fracking waste into the ground — that close to your home,” said James Cato of the Mountain Watershed Association.
Oil and gas wastewater is produced during fracking and contains salts, chemicals and metals. The EPA says it can be toxic and radioactive. What to do with it is becoming a bigger issue in Pennsylvania.
The EPA recently approved a second injection well in Allegheny County, just outside of Pittsburgh. There are 19 permitted wells in the state.
Ohio has over 200 injection wells and accepts millions of gallons of Pennsylvania’s fracking waste. In recent months, Ohio regulators have suspended several wells where fluids had migrated into nearby oil and gas wells. Another set of Ohio wells was suspended after toxic brine releases to the surface.
Besides proximity, Fayette County residents said they worried the G2 STEM well could fail, leading to contamination of nearby water sources.
Dave Smith, a local resident and farm owner, explained there had been a previous test in 2020 to see whether the well would hold to pressure. “They put 4,950 barrels of brine down that well to test that well. And the tests show it failed and it lost pressure. So where’d the brine go?” Smith said. “To this day, we don’t know.”
G2 STEM’s proposed well would have been located at one of the highest points in Fayette County, with a number of water sources downstream of it. Were the well to fail and contaminate nearby water sources, Smith worried for local farm animals. “We have livestock that drink out of the streams and springs and I use the wells daily to water them, so that was a big concern.”
He said the county is home to a number of dairy farms whose income and water sources could be jeopardized due to contamination. “If we don’t have clean water, we don’t have nothing,” said Smith.
Smith and others went “door to door,” informing residents about the July 2023 EPA hearing on the proposed well. Once the word got out, “it just kept spreading like wildfire,” said Smith. Over 100 members of the community, including both environmentalists and fossil-fuel industry workers, gathered at a local church to express their dismay at the project.
In August, G2 Stem LLC withdrew its injection well proposal. Fred Gumbinner, the former manager of the company, cited “concerns raised by the company’s team of geologists and engineers that would require further study” as the reason for their withdrawal.
Still, Smith and other residents of Fayette County remain vigilant, aware that the company could reapply in the future. Community members worked with Local State Representative Charity Grimm Krupa (R-Fayette County) to introduce a bill aiming to prohibit the Pennsylvanian Department of Environmental Protection from “issuing any permits or authorizations which would allow for oil and gas wastewater to be injected within the Commonwealth.”
Injection wells in Pennsylvania are permitted by the federal government, not the state, so the result of this type of legislation is unclear.
“I do not believe that it is an acceptable risk to allow injection wells to be sited within our communities considering the severe consequences that may result if an accidental spill or leakage incident occurs,” Grimm Krupa said in a statement introducing the legislation. The bill was referred to the Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy last month and is awaiting review.