Barry Co. residents fight EPA approval of injection well

Arbor Operating, injection well, Johnstown Township
It was standing room only at the Hastings Public Library on April 19, 2017 for an EPA public hearing on a proposed injection well in Barry County.

HASTINGS, Mich. (WOOD) — There was a flood of doubt from Barry County residents on Wednesday evening at a public hearing regarding a plan to dispose of oil drilling waste.

The meeting at the Hastings Public Library was standing room only. Environmental Protection Agency representatives took residents’ questions and heard their concerns about the safety of an injection well in Johnstown Township that an oil drilling company wants to start using.

Traverse City-based Arbor Operating, LLC said the well off of Manning Lake Road north of Bristol Road was originally drilled in 2012 as an oil producing well. But now, the company wants to use it for disposing brine, a byproduct of oil drilling.

Arbor Operating, injection well, Johnstown Township
The site of a proposed injection well in Johnstown Township. (April 19, 2017)

The EPA will likely grant Arbor Operating a permit to use the well for injection. That’s not sitting well with people who live in the area.

The big question at the Wednesday meeting was if the brine could somehow seep into residents’ drinking water. Kate LeVan, who lives within a mile and a half of the proposed site injection site, said people in the area rely on well water.

“If something goes wrong, nobody’s responsible. There is no municipal water system in our area. Who’s going to pay for that? We can’t pay for that,” she said.

“This is bad stuff you’re going to allow to pump into the ground below our water,” one resident said at the meeting.

“The brine that is injected is not going to be radioactive,” EPA representative Jeffrey Wawczak said.

“The entirety of the system that we’re speaking about this evening, the entirety of the review and the permit conditions is specifically directed toward eliminating exposure,” EPA Deputy Branch Chief Steve Jann added.

The EPA says the fluids that would be pumped into the ground do not meet the definition of hazardous waste under federal law within the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

In a Wednesday statement to 24 Hour News 8, Arbor said it is “proud of its record for well integrity and its commitment to meet and exceed the permit requirements protecting our fresh water resources.”

Other residents were concerned about oversight.

“Does an EPA inspector come out to the site to verify the information being sent forth?” one woman asked.

“We inspect about 75 to 100 wells per year and we use a targeting approach,” Jann answered.

He said the EPA chooses which wells to inspect each year, meaning it won’t necessarily inspect the Johnstown Township well each year.

Residents are also worried about their property values decreasing if their water is contaminated.

“If we have contaminated water, we can’t get a loan. And this just happened in Osceola County, Fork Township, where a bank discovered that this was the problem. No monitoring. No EPA, no MDEQ. A bank did a water test and said we can’t approve this,” LeVan said.

The EPA says it could take at a minimum six months to review all public comments before a final decision is made. It will accept public comment until Friday. If the permit is approved, residents can appeal the decision to the EPA’s Appeals Board.

>>PDF: EPA permit process summary

The full statement from Arbor Operating:

“Arbor Operating, LLC has requested permission to dispose of brine water, produced via conventional oil recovery methods, within Barry County.  The request for permission must be acceptable to both the MDEQ and the USEPA.  The specific request is to utilize the Swanson 4-7 well, drilled in 2012 as an expected oil producing well, as a disposal well.  Arbor’s request is to dispose of naturally occurring brine water, produced with oil from our existing producing oil wells in Barry County.  The permit request is clear in limiting the disposal of brine from only our producing wells, with a limit of 400 barrels a day.   At this time, we are hauling the brine water produced to a commercial injection well.  This process requires Arbor to store and then truck the brine water to another location.  We are encouraged by the USEPAs public hearing scheduled for this evening.  Throughout this process I have been made aware of concerns from our neighbors and fellow citizens.  Some of the media coverage has simply been inaccurate.  For instance, It has been implied Arbor will inject millions of gallons of “Frac” fluid into the Swanson 4-7.  Arbor is not involved with horizontal hydraulic fracturing and as such, has no such waste to dispose of.  There is concern regarding contamination of the water table.  Arbor is proud of its record for well integrity and its commitment to meet and exceed the permit requirements protecting our fresh water resources.

“The staff of Arbor operating live and work in Michigan.  We all enjoy our wonderful natural resources, be it our lakes, our rivers, our trail systems.  We strive to be good stewards of those resources and will continue to protect them while utilizing the same.”