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Washington County Produced Water Investigation

In late 2019, three owners of production wells in Washington County reported to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management (Division) an increased flow of salt water, known as brine, during their extraction process in 28 production wells located in the Berea Sandstone formation. While some amount of brine is expected to be produced along with crude oil and natural gas, these owners reported seeing a higher volume than normal. The owners believed that the brine came from a nearby Class II Saltwater Injection Well, Redbird #4, in the Ohio Shale formation, which sits below the Berea Sandstone formation as shown in Figure A. The Division has received no reports of adverse effects to human health or safety associated with any of the wells at issue. 

The Division began investigating the matter, and scientists in the Division’s Underground Injection Control program requested and procured available data, including samples from the 15 production wells where brine samples could be obtained. The Division contracted with a third-party, Resource Services International, to analyze the data and determine if brine was travelling from Redbird #4 to the production wells. 

The Division also discussed the allegations of brine travelling out of its injection zone with the owner of the Redbird #4 injection well in March of 2020. As of May 22, 2020, the owner voluntarily completed modifications to the Redbird #4 well to seal off the Ohio Shale formation. The Redbird #4 had not actively injected since November of 2019 because of an unrelated pump problem. 

Key Report Conclusions 

  • Wastewater injected into the Ohio Shale Formation from the Redbird #4 well is the source of brine that has appeared in several production wells drilled into the adjacent Berea formation. The conclusion is based on data and water samples obtained from both the injection well and the production wells. 
  • Naturally occurring fissures exist between the Ohio Shale formation and the Berea Sandstone formation, allowing wastewater to migrate between the formations and into the production wells. 
  • Since Redbird #4 is no longer injecting brine into the Ohio Shale formation, brine volumes in the impacted production wells are expected to decrease and natural gas production will return to expected rates. 
  • It is unlikely that wastewater will migrate farther – including into underground sources of drinking water due to the composition of the rock layers and other factors. 

Actions by the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management 

Based on these conclusions and the unique geologic makeup of the area around the Redbird #4, there is currently no reason to believe that this issue is occurring in other wells outside of this area. However, as a result of the initial complaint and in advance of the of the report’s findings, the Division did the following:  

  • Collected samples from two other Class II Saltwater Injection operations injecting into the Ohio Shale within a ten-mile radius of the Redbird #4 well to allow for testing to determine if any wastewater is migrating out of the injection formation.   
  • Added conditions to all newly permitted Class II Saltwater Injection Wells after August 11, 2020. These conditions allow the Division to stop operations if fluids injected into the well do not remain in the zone in which they were injected and will require operators to perform additional testing. 
  • Contracted to plug an idle and orphan well located near Redbird #4 that contained wastewater, removing water from the Berea Formation. 
  • Compiled a list of 11 nearby wells that are being examined for determination if they qualify as idle and orphaned wells to be plugged by the Division’s Orphan Well Program. 

Moving forward, the Division will:   

  • Engage an expert to provide further findings to determine if additional regulatory action is necessary. 
  • Prohibit the issuance of new Class II Saltwater Injection Well permits into the Ohio Shale formation within a ten-mile radius of the Redbird #4 until further studies of nearby injection wells are completed. 
  • Prepare a Scope of Work to contract a third-party consultant to conduct a groundwater study to corroborate the conclusions of the report. 

The Division strives to protect human health, safety, and the environment and will take all necessary action to investigate any complaints it receives and will respond accordingly. While no surface environmental impacts have occurred, and the Division has not received any reports of contamination to groundwater in the geographical area, any residents who have questions should contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, at (614) 265-6608 or oilandgas@dnr.state.oh.us.

Update - July 2021

In early 2021, the Division hired a private contractor, Groundwater and Environmental Services (GES), to conduct a study of private water wells to corroborate the findings of the Washington County Produced Water Investigation released in September 2020. The GES investigation was conducted to verify that brine has not migrated into shallower aquifers that provide drinking water supplies to private water wells located within a one-half mile radius of nine oil and gas wells permitted to operate by the Division. The goal was to locate, identify, and sample private water wells and determine if any and all private water wells in the area were impacted by the operations of the injection well.

The GES investigation concluded that none of the water wells that were sampled were impacted by brine associated with the Redbird #4 injection well.

This conclusion was based on the analytical results, depths of the water wells analyzed, other potential source factors, and distance from the Redbird #4 injection well. GES made every reasonable effort to contact the landowners within the area to encourage participation in the investigation, including contacting landowners via telephone, mail, e-mail, and door-to-door field canvassing. Read the report from the GES water sampling study [pdf].