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Assessing water quality near fracking injection well sites in the Columbus Metro watersheds to protect drinking water

Columbus, Ohio

Featured image for the project, Assessing water quality near fracking injection well sites in the Columbus Metro watersheds to protect drinking water

Photo: Mosher Unit Class II injection well in Cardington, Morrow County, OH. Credit Columbus Community Bill of Rights

Oil and gas companies have been granted permits to inject toxic, radioactive fracking waste into Class II injection wells within Columbus Metro watersheds, which provide drinking water for more than 1.2 million residents of the greater Columbus area1. There are currently 13 injection wells upstream of  Columbus metro located in Delaware and Morrow counties which have been injected with millions of gallons of oil and gas waste, euphemistically called “brine”. This waste can contain more than 1,000 different chemicals, of which many are carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors, and also contains radium 226 and 228, in addition to other radionuclides.

 The Columbus Community Bill of Rights group will conduct preliminary water quality testing to determine if there is a measurable impact from the injection waste. Even if there is not currently a detectable impact during the testing period, the aim is to ensure continuous monitoring near the wells to hold the industries accountable for leaks, spills, or migration of the liquid waste into the water supply. As part of the group’s objective to protect their water, it aims to pass the Columbus Community Bill of Rights charter amendment to give citizens the legal right to say no to current and future oil and gas industry contamination in their watersheds.

The immediate goal of this water testing initiative is to motivate the need for long-term water quality monitoring by the City of Columbus near the injection wells. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure a ban on injection well permits, solid frack waste (drill cuttings) disposal in landfills within the watershed, and spreading oil and gas brine for dust and ice control.

Description

Columbus Community Bill of Rights
https://columbusbillofrights.org/

In Central Ohio, the waterways of the region make up the Upper Scioto watershed, which provides drinking water for more than 1.2 million people in the Columbus metro area alone1.

The fracking waste in the injection wells located in the Upper Scioto watershed comes from the Utica and Marcellus Shale formations which have high levels of naturally occurring radioactive elements,  primarily radium 226 and 228.  As a result, this waste can have radiation levels up to 3,600 times over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking limits2. In part because of federal loopholes, millions of tons of solid and trillions of gallons3 of liquid radioactive oil and gas waste are being disposed of nationwide as if they were safe. Radium 226 is particularly troubling because it will remain radioactive for thousands of years, as it has a half-life of 1,600 years. Oil and gas production waste brines injected into the Columbus Metro watershed between 1982 and 2020 within Morrow County equate to an amount that would fill more than 1,011 Olympic-sized swimming pools, almost 16 million barrels.

Columbus Community Bill of Rights (CCBOR) was formed in 2014 by a group of concerned citizens  in order to protect their water from oil and gas industrial harms. CCBOR is a grassroots, all-volunteer group that believes all people have inalienable rights to safe water, soil, and air, as well as the right of local self-governance to prohibit substances and activities that would violate those rights. CCBOR also recognizes the rights of ecosystems and natural communities within the city to be free from such harmful activities. Throughout their four campaigns more than 50,000 Columbus residents have signed their petitions.

CCBOR will use this water quality testing to determine if there is any current impact by the injection wells, motivate the city and state to take greater protection of the watersheds, keeping in mind that these injection wells may leak at any time in the future. These actions will provide impetus to pass the Columbus Community Bill of Rights charter amendment.

CCBOR has worked to give Columbus citizens a legal voice in decisions relating to oil and gas. CCBOR has partnered with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to create a charter amendment that would eliminate fracking and frack waste dumping in the community. Beginning in 2014, CCBOR has submitted four ballot initiatives and each time, either the City Council, Board of Elections, the state legislature or the courts have prevented the charter amendment from reaching the ballot.

 

 Links to background documents and resources relevant to the project:

 

The Project 

CCBOR members, with the training and guidance of a scientist or scientists, will test the water near the injection wells via a citizen science study to be eventually transferred to the City in order to protect the water long term. CCBOR will use this information for three reasons: 1) to determine if there is current contamination due to the waste already in the injection wells, 2) to ensure ongoing monitoring of this potential contamination, and 3)  to stop the dumping and permitting of more waste in the watershed. Output includes:

  • Press releases
  • Education for the general public on the dangers and injustice of this issue.
  • A Community Bill of Rights charter amendment on the ballot or City Council enacting it, through the pressure generated from this project’s actions.

Output from the project will emphasize that local communities should be in control of their health and safety. CCBOR aims to empower communities to promote local self-governance, especially concerning health, safety, and welfare, and to prevent harms.

 

Timeline and Milestones

The collaboration between the community and the scientist(s) should start as soon as possible. The duration of the project will be approximately 12 months.

Ultimate timeline and milestones will emerge once the scientist(s) is brought on board and as the project is planned in detail.

Project Team

Community Leads

Carolyn Harding is a grassroots activist committed to protecting our Water, Air, Soil and Rights for the sake of all life on this planet.  She is a co-organizer with the Columbus Community Bill of Rights (ColumbusBillofRights.org), working to give Columbus citizens the right to say No to fracking & radioactive frack waste dumping.  She is host and producer of #GrassRoot_Ohio Radio/Podcast -conversations with  activists working on social, racial, economic and environmental justice.  The half hour show airs & streams on Fridays, 5pm @ wgrn.org and is found on SoundCloud, Apple & Spotify.  Her family, good- food/people/stories/red wine and coffee ward off prone and fetal positions.

Kathy McGlone was  raised in Columbus and received her BS from OU in Field Biology in the Botany Department.   She received her teacher certification from OSU.  Kathy taught Biology, Basic Biology, Ecology, Earth and Space Science and Physical Science in Southeast Ohio for 30 years.  She received her Masters Degree in Environmental Science from OU.  The county where she resided, Monroe,  was inundated or destroyed by fracking.  Kathy retired in 2013 and joined CCBOR.

Bill Lyons is a mathematics and science teacher who has taught nearly 40 years on four continents at the high school and college levels.  He is a co-organizer of the Columbus Community Bill of Rights group and is president of the Ohio Community Rights Network.  He has been an activist since 2015 when he got involved in the community rights and rights of nature movements because he is passionate about local democracy and social and environmental justice.

 

Community Science Fellow

Megan Duffy is a biogeochemist and PhD candidate at the University of Washington School of Oceanography in Seattle. Previously she received a B.A. in chemistry from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. She’s interested in how carbon is transformed and transported across different interfaces: between rivers and oceans, and from algae to deep ocean sediments. She’s passionate about community-based research that builds knowledge and tools for climate adaptation on an ecosystem scale. Born and raised in Vermont, Megan currently lives near the Mission Mountains in northwest Montana.

Scientist Wanted

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact that they can contribute to as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators.  This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding for the next stage.

  • The community is open to the scientific partner(s) bringing in students to support this work.
  • The scientist(s) should be within reasonable driving distance to the community.

 

Desired skills and qualifications:

  • Experience with water quality analysis and urban watersheds
  • Knowledge of the fracking industry and hazards
  • Access to watershed mapping tools
  • No sponsorship (funding, direct or indirect) by oil and gas companies
  • Open to working with citizen scientists and willing to train participants with patience
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Willingness to connect science to CCBOR’s concerns
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in-person
  • Willingness and ability to meet regularly
  • Bonus if the scientist has access to water testing equipment and lab facilities

 

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!

Collaborating Organization(s)

Ohio Community Rights Network (ohiocrn.org)

 

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) (celdf.org)