In the wake of the recent Youngstown-area earthquakes, the debate over expanded oil and gas production in Ohio is heating up. Since one of the primary areas of concern is public and environmental safety, we thought it would be helpful to take a look at violation records for existing oil and gas wells in Ohio to see how the industry is doing.

We took a look at data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) obtained through public record requests along with data obtained from ODNR’s RBDMS database and we found that 693 gas, oil, disposal and other types of wells in Ohio failed inspections performed by ODNR inspectors last year, resulting in 1,625 distinct violations.

The most frequent citations appear to be for older, non-productive wells that have often been abandoned or unused for many years. Violations for Failure to legibly identify well (347 violations) were most frequent, followed by Nonproduction wells that need to be plugged or placed in temporary inactive status (251 violations). But many more serious violations were also identified including:

  • Well operation causing pollution and contamination – 131 violations
  • Other pollution and contamination related – 24
  • Defective casing, leaking well – 55 violations
  • No SPCC dike/or failure to keep dike free of water or oil – 53 violations
  • Well insufficiently equipped to prevent escape of oil and gas – 51 violations
  • Unlawful venting or flaring of gas – 27 violations
  • Dike or pit not able to prevent escape of brine or other wastes – 19 violations
  • Unlawful method of storage or disposal of brine or other wastes – 18 violations
  • Failure to keep dike or pit free of brine or other wastes – 16 violations

Some of the worst violations included:

  • A 200′ long leak of potentially toxic brine and oil flowing into a creek that feeds the Little Muskingum River (and eventually the Ohio River)
  • The scalding of trees from the release of brine (i.e. salty and potentially-toxic wastewater) “apparently caused by the hydraulic fracturing of nearby new well”
  • “oil bubbling up in the back yard” of residential homes

The company with the most wells in violation was Enervest. According to their website: “EnerVest is the largest oil and gas operator in Ohio, accounting for approximately 25 percent of the state’s production. The company’s next play in Ohio is the Utica Shale.” Below is a list of the companies with 10 or more wells receiving violations in 2011:

  • HISTORIC OWNER – 24 wells
  • BROAD STREET SERV LLC – 16 wells
  • OGE ENERGY LTD – 16 wells
  • CUTTER OIL CO – 14 wells
  • J D DRILLING CO – 14 wells
  • ARMSTRONG ROBERT D – 11 wells
  • M & R INVESTMENTS OHIO LLC – 11 wells
  • OXFORD OIL – 11 wells
  • ATLAS NOBLE LLC – 10 wells
  • L L P OIL & GAS CORP – 10 wells

Athens, Holmes and Washington counties had the most wells with violations in the state. Below is a list of all counties with over 10 wells receiving violations during inspections last year.

  • ATHENS – 53 wells
  • HOLMES – 51 wells
  • WASHINGTON – 49 wells
  • MEIGS – 44 wells
  • TUSCARAWAS – 42 wells
  • COSHOCTON – 35 wells
  • MUSKINGUM – 35 wells
  • MONROE – 29 wells
  • LICKING – 28 wells
  • PERRY – 26 wells
  • GUERNSEY – 25 wells
  • NOBLE – 24 wells
  • HOCKING – 22 wells
  • VINTON – 21 wells
  • CUYAHOGA – 18 wells
  • WAYNE – 18 wells
  • MORGAN – 17 wells
  • STARK – 17 wells
  • HENRY – 16 wells
  • MEDINA – 15 wells
  • GEAUGA – 13 wells
  • LAKE – 12 wells
  • TRUMBULL – 12 wells
  • LAWRENCE – 11 wells

While we tend to talk about politics here at Plunderbund (it’s kind of our thing) I think it’s important to note that what we’ve presented above is simply the data resulting from inspections performed by hard-working ODNR inspectors who are not political appointees and, we hope, not impacted by political pressure.

Even internally at PB we have disagreements on the importance of, necessity for, and reasoning behind expanding oil and gas development in Ohio, so our goal, at least with this series of posts, is not to take sides but simply to expand the information available to facilitate that discussion. I hope this data does exactly that. NOTE: There’s still more to come!

We are currently working on a year-over-year analysis using the same data set that should help put this data into context. We will publish the full data set, including the public records we received, once our analysis is completed.

[UPDATE] It’s been pointed out that we forgot to include the total number of wells in Ohio. To clarify, ODNR’s website says there are 64,378 active wells in Ohio. SO yes, it’s true a total of 1% of all wells in the state failed an inspection. BUT… it’s also important to note that, based on the same data set we used for our analysis, only 6,785 wells were actually inspected last year meaning only about 10% of the wells in the state were actually inspected. To put it another way, inspections appear to have had a 10% failure rate. We apologize for excluding this information in our original analysis.

[UPDATE] Note: this post was updated to clarify that the wells in question were gas and oil wells as well as disposal and other types of wells.