What is an underground injection well? An Injection well is a device that places fluid deep underground into porous rock formations, such as sandstone or limestone, or into or below the shallow soil layer. These fluids may be water, wastewater, brine (salt water), or water mixed with chemicals. Widespread use of injection wells began in the 1930s to dispose of brine generated during oil production. Injection effectively disposed of unwanted brine, preserved surface waters, and in some formations, enhanced the recovery of oil. In the 1950s, chemical companies began injecting industrial wastes into deep wells. As chemical manufacturing increased, so did the use of deep injection. Injection was an inexpensive option for the disposal of unwanted and often hazardous industrial byproducts.
EPA’s regulations group injection wells into six groups or “classes.” Classes I – IV and VI include wells with similar functions, construction, and operating features. This allows consistent technical requirements to be applied to each well class. Class V wells are those that do not meet the description of any other well class. In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Part of SDWA required EPA to report back to Congress on waste disposal practices, and develop minimum federal requirements for injection practices that protect public health by preventing injection wells from contaminating underground sources of drinking water (USDWs). An underground source of drinking water (USDW) is an aquifer or a part of an aquifer that is currently used as a drinking water source or may be needed as a drinking water source in the future.
The UIC Program protects USDWs from endangerment by setting minimum requirements for injection wells. All injection must be authorized under either general rules or specific permits. Injection well owners and operators may not site, construct, operate, maintain, convert, plug, abandon, or conduct any other injection activity that endangers USDWs. The purpose of the UIC requirements is to:
In March of 2013, the Plateau Action Network along with the Natural Resource Defense Council, the West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization, the Sierra Club, and private land owners objected to the renewal of permit UIC2D0190460 to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Office of Oil and Gas, which would allow continued operations of an Underground Injection Well by Danny E. Webb Construction . The Plateau Action Network and partners are committed to protecting public health by preventing injection wells from contaminating water supplies and are exploring options to appeal the permit.
Public Hearing Fact Sheet 1-7-15
Appellant’s Brief to Environmental Quality Board of WVDEP
Permit Appeal Documents
Public Comment Documents
Public Hearing Transcript: Tuesday, June 4, 2013, 6:00 pm (download)
Compiled Data of Danny E. Webb Construction UIC Well, by George Monk at Sootypaws: http://www.sootypaws.net/gws/uic/webb.html
Short Documentary by Keely Kernan. The film is part of a series about resource extraction throughout West Virginia called “In the Hills and Hollows” and is sponsored by the Civil Society Institute and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
Archive by West Virginia Public Broadcasting : http://wvpublic.org/term/lochghelly-injection-well
In May 2002, Danny Webb Construction was issued a permit to operate Class II D oil and gas wastewater disposal well UIC2D0190460 (North Hills #1-A Well). In association with the injection wells at this site, Danny Webb Construction (DWC) also constructed two open pits at the site. According to a DEP document, these pits were only to be used for wastewater produced by coalbed methane operations. The pits were intended so that the coal fines in the water would settle out and not be injected into the disposal well.
In 2004, DEP received multiple complaints of a foul odor emanating from open pits that Danny Webb Construction was using to store waste fluids. The sulphurous odors reported by residents raise the concern that the odors were due to hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous and flammable gas. At low concentrations, exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas can cause irritation of the eyes and throat, shortness of breath, and nausea, while at higher concentrations exposure may be fatal. DEP’s investigation did not determine whether the odors had been due to hydrogen sulfide or another toxic substance. DEP investigated, finding that the problem had been due to an error by a truck driver, who had discharged fluids into one of the pits rather than into a closed container, thus allowing vapors to escape into the atmosphere.1 Based on ongoing odor complaints, DEP required Danny Webb Construction to: (1) cease transporting fluids from the company (Bobcat Oil and Gas) that had produced the waste giving rise to the problems, (2) cease using the open pit at the site until further notice, (3) empty the pit, wash the liner, and dispose of all rinsate and residue in a tank or down the disposal well, (4) complete construction of a fence around the pit at the disposal well site, (5) conduct training and instruction to all truck drivers and operators at the site to ensure proper assessment and handling of fluids. Of these requirements, there is only evidence in the record to demonstrate that #4 was timely completed. There is some evidence that others were completed only much later, well after the requirements had been imposed. For instance, despite the order to stop accepting waste from Bobcat Oil and Gas in May 2004, there is a letter in the record from Danny Webb Construction to Bobcat Oil and Gas dated March 8, 2007, almost three years later, stating that DWC had “elected not to transport” further water from the company. The letter notes that DWC had already transported and accepted wastewater from Bobcat twice that year, apparently violating the DEP order. A note from a DEP staffer indicates that a worker training was conducted in 2008, approximately four years after the order was issued, and after a 2007 permit requirement which also insisted that the staff be trained. There is no evidence that DWC complied with the order to clean a pit or cease using it, which would be a serious violation, given the potential toxicity of oil and gas waste fluids. It is also unclear as to whether there was more than one pit in operation at this time and, if so, why the order only addressed one of them.
On January 5, 2007, DEP issued a notice of violation to Danny Webb Construction, noting that the company had not “follow[ed] the conditions of the permit” including failures to install culverts, a ditch line, and sediment control measures. In May of 2007, Danny Webb Construction applied for a UIC permit renewal. DEP received numerous comments from local residents expressing opposition to the renewal of the permit, including from the Fayette County Health Officer. While many concerns were raised by the residents, a significant number mentioned ongoing problems with noxious odors. In addition, the DEP received a communication from an Underground Storage Tank Inspector noting that Mr. Webb had provided the inspector with conflicting stories about the activities at the site. Despite these problems and concerns, DEP issued a renewed permit on October 25, 2007. Among other requirements, the permit mandated that the permittee: (1) provide for security at the injection facility, including providing a locked gate and instructing all drivers to close and lock it if a Webb employee is not at the facility (2) conduct training and instruction to all truck drivers and operators at the site to ensure proper assessment and handling of fluids, and (3) have pit fluids pumped into the tank battery and have the pits permanently backfilled and their use discontinued. Danny Webb Construction did not appeal the imposition of these requirements in the permit.
On May 8, 2008, DWC was cited for underground injection into another well at the same site without a permit. On May 12, 2008, DWC was cited for failure to pump the fluid in the pits into tanks and close the pits within six months of permit issuance. On June 3, 2008, DEP personnel conducted another inspection and found that the other well onsite was still being operated without a permit. Despite a longstanding pattern of noncompliance by DWC, on November 6, 2008, the DEP reversed its position and issued an order allowing DWC to keep the pits in operation, “so long as they contain only fluids and do not cause objectionable odors off-site.” Unfortunately, local residents have continued to report offensive odors to the present time. For instance, an owner of a neighboring property reported this week in a comment letter to DEP that there are still noxious odors at the site. Other residents apparently experienced problems with odors in February of this year. The May 12, 2008 order also required DWC to sample the fluid in the pits and the stream adjacent to the pits twice annually. While some testing has occurred, it is not clear whether the testing has been performed according to the requirements. The tests taken have been done at irregular intervals, and samples appear to be collected by DWC itself. Sample locations are often imprecise (e.g. “midstream”) and some of the testing reports provide no indication of where the samples were taken. However, a number of the tests have shown elevated levels of certain contaminants.
On September 23, 2010, DEP issued another notice of violation to DWC, this time because used oil not associated with produced fluids was observed within the pits. DWC was ordered to replace the pit liners.