BARNESVILLE- Village council hosted a town meeting Monday night regarding a proposed project for the East Ohio Regional Industrial Park on State Route 800. The project had been approved by the Belmont County Port Authority Board of Trustees, which oversees the park, but public opposition built when residents thought fracking waste would be dumped there. Council called the meeting to present facts about the project and dispel misinformation and rumors circulating on social media.
A company from Columbus, EnerGreen360 has developed a technique to clean and solidify top hole drill cuttings from gas wells. There is no fracking waste involved; the material is the "dirt" from the drilling process, which may have trace amounts of refined oil-based substances (ROBS) only from the drill bit.
Rob Smith, president of EnerGreen360, gave an overview of their status. The company attended at least three Port Authority board meetings to present the plans and process. EnerGreen360 will be taking the "top hole" cuttings which include naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM.) In many cases the material is deposited back onto the drill site, but it is also used to build roads and construct drill pads. EnerGreen360 would be cleaning the material and treating it with Portland cement to level areas in the park for buildings.
Their Ohio Department of Natural Resources permit has been approved, and they are, according to Smith, about two weeks from submitting their Ohio EPA permit application. EnerGreen360 hired a company to continue testing soil and ponds at the park, and they are in progress. The storm water management plan submitted to the OEPA was approved last week.
The lease agreement with the Port Authority, which was approved by the board but not signed, takes additional precautions for monitoring radiation levels by implementing testing by both EnerGreen360 and the Port Authority at EnerGreen360's expense. Smith added that current regulations allow EnerGreen360 to use the drill cuttings without treating them, but the company is going "above and beyond."
Craig Butler, director of the Ohio EPA, confirmed that his agency has not received the EnerGreen360 application yet, but said the OEPA has been looking for alternative uses for NORM drill cuttings, which he described as "ground up rock." The OEPA is allowing cuttings to be reused in other locations, and the end use determines the types of testing necessary to insure its safety. OEPA would like to keep the material from taking space in landfills since it is considered re-useable.
A bioengineer affiliated with The Ohio State University, Dr. Julie Weatherington-Rice, discussed Ohio's geology regarding shale and limestone deposits and depths. She questioned the stability of the material, saying that the safest way to use it, in her opinion, is by turning it into a ceramic. This would involve "cooking" the material at very high temperatures and changing its physical structure. As the material is, Rice says, water from rain and snow will deteriorate it. She added that the coal and black shale deposits have acted as filters and accumulated radioactive materials and metals. Barnesville has tested high for radon levels by geological researchers.
Nathan Johnson, an attorney with the Ohio Environmental Council, gave the group information on House Bill 59, passed in September 2013. He says the final bill removed the drill cuttings on which this project is based from the TENORM (technology enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials) category. He called Ohio law "inadequate" for regulating the oil and gas industry and said that ODNR has "no rules" when it comes to testing and requirements for materials and uses.
During a question and answer session, one Barnesville resident asked Smith about where the processed drill cuttings are used. Smith responded that a company called Clean Earth has been using material which is not treated as thoroughly for projects in Pennsylvania.
Butler noted that the OEPA granted an application for a similar project in Columbus, and they took one year to review the proposal and application. He said that there is no guarantee that EnerGreen360's proposal would be granted because each application is studied and evaluated based on its own process and reuse.
"It's good to see citizens come out and want to learn more about this," Butler added. "We don't want people put at higher risk."
Barnesville councilman Scott Gallagher noted that they have been trying to keep "a green belt" around the town to preserve water sources, and, based on what he heard at the meeting, he is against the project.
The Belmont County Commissioners also weighed in after the presentations. Commissioner Matt Coffland said that a single controversial project like this "is not worth upsetting residents." Commissioner Ginny Favede noted that she asks herself what is best for the community, adding that a project like this may not enhance the industrial park for future tenants.
Commissioner Mark Thomas said, "The message we need to take away tonight is that the board needs to look at all the information and revisit the issue. We're all here as your representatives."
State Representative Andy Thompson responded to Johnson's "no rules" comment by noting that proposals from the Department of Agriculture, ODNR and OEPA are all under review currently, assuring the group that regulatory matters are in progress on a state level. He also cautioned them about completely dismissing the project.
"If they have the science and the means to do this the right way, if this is something positive," Thompson noted, "I think we should entertain it."
Martin Gould, board chairman of the Port Authority, commented that the citizens' concerns will be taken seriously and that board members will be looking for validation on all of the information presented when taking another look at EnerGreen360's project.
"We're not some horrible entity that will do this project at all costs," Gould added. "But we only want to deal with facts, not with extremes."
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