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A truck leaves the site of a K&H Partners injection well facility near Route 50 in Troy Township on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.

ODNR tests for water contamination in Athens County

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources initiated plans to conduct well water testing in the eastern part of Athens County for potential contamination after discovering toxic waste from four fracking waste injection wells that might have spread underground.

Rather than conducting the testing internally, ODNR called for proposals from third-party organizations. Two companies–ATC Group Services LLC and Patriot Engineering and Environmental Inc.–submitted bids.

The ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management selected Patriot Engineering and Environmental Inc. to perform the groundwater study, according to ODNR Spokesperson Karina Cheung.

According to Cheung, Patriot Engineering and Environmental Inc. will collect water samples and analyze various parameters to determine whether there is evidence of impact from the injection wells.

After being awarded the solicitation on March 27, Chueng said, Patriot Engineering and Environmental Inc. must complete work within 90 days of being awarded the contract and submit a final report within 30 days of completion.

Cheung noted over 225 Class II injection wells in Ohio, all of which the division regularly inspects.

The division received complaints about brine water migration in 2015 and 2016 at the S. Moore #1 and M Dunfec #1 production wells, according to an Ohio Oil and Gas Commission appeal document. Although investigations did not attribute these issues to the K&H Partners LLC Wells Nos. 1, 2, & 3 located in Athens County, evidence emerged in 2019 linking brine migration from wells in Washington County to nearby production wells.

According to ODNR’s request for proposals, the K&H and Frost injection wells in Athens County have been injecting brine into the Ohio Shale formation, approximately 2000 feet below the ground surface, since 2013.

While injection operations at the Frost well ceased in March 2021 after injecting approximately 3.5 million barrels of brine, injection at the K&H injection wells stopped in June 2023 following concerns about impacts on nearby production wells and public health and safety. 

Operations resumed temporarily after a stay of the suspension was granted in October 2023, according to an ODNR sampling and analysis plan. 

However, the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission upheld ODNR's regulatory order on April 19 to suspend operations of three K&H Partners’ wells due to imminent danger to health and the environment, according to the commission’s appeal document. 

Despite not detecting groundwater contamination caused by the K&H Wells, Cheung said ODNR is soliciting bids as a precaution to ensure there are no adverse impacts on groundwater.

Dr. Natalie Kruse Daniels, Ohio University’s environmental studies program professor and director, provided expert testimony on behalf of ODNR during a hearing before the Oil and Gas Commission regarding the continued operation of K&H partner’s wells.

ODNR has outlined a sampling and analysis plan targeting the K&H partner's injection wells, the Frost well, and several other wells subject to complaints about brine emergence from operational oil and gas extraction wells.

Kruse Daniels emphasized the testing results will offer a snapshot rather than a conclusion.

Patriot Engineering and Environmental Inc. will sample private water wells within a one-half-mile radius of the review area, with a total of 33 water wells identified for sampling and analysis, according to the project document.

According to the document, the contractor will develop a communications plan to contact the property owners within the half-mile radius to obtain permission for water well testing.

The samples will be analyzed by a laboratory certified by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency or the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, according to the document.

According to the document, water samples from the private wells and any additional wells identified by the contractor’s field survey will be collected and analyzed for general chemistry, metal and non-metal parameters. Each well will be characterized by GPS location, photographs and sampling. 

The sampling and analysis plan includes two decision points: elevated chloride levels compared to drinking water standard and a bromide-to-chloride ratio. Locations meeting these criteria will undergo further sampling.

Kruse Daniels noted the challenge of pinpointing the expected pollutants in the brine due to its varied sources but expected to include bromide, radium and barium. She also highlighted the health implications hinge on the concentration of these pollutants.

Roxanne Groff, a Save Ohio Parks committee member, referenced a similar incident in Washington County in 2019 when a Class II Saltwater Injection Well–called Redbird #4–caused brine to enter the wells of three production well owners. 

According to Groff, this resulted in the shutdown of over 40 wells belonging to small oil and gas producers, causing income and heat loss in community member’s homes in January.

“The Division is confident in the strength of Ohio’s regulatory framework and its ability to protect public health and safety and the environment—including the protection of underground sources of drinking water,” Cheung wrote in an email. 


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