The ongoing rift between the state's administrators and a Lisbon-based water treatment company won't be ending anytime soon if a new rule regulating brine treatment in the governor's proposed budget passes into law.
The proposed item in Gov. John Kasich's two-year budget bill released last month would outlaw disposal of treated oilfield waste like brine and crude in groundwater, lakes and streams. The new language also would prohibit someone from treating brine and then transferring it to someone else for disposal in surface water or on land.
That is the process used by Patriot Water Treatment LLC of Lisbon. The company pre-treats brine water at a Warren plant before transferring it for disposal to the city's wastewater treatment plant and ultimately into the Mahoning River watershed.
Tribune Chronicle / Ashley Newman
Patriot Water employee Joe O’Brien last week prepares to inspect brine water before it’s shipped for processing. A proposal in Gov. John Kasich’s budget could put Patriot out of business.
Patriot owner Andrew Blocksom and Warren's director of Water Pollution Control Tom Angelo on Tuesday both maintained if the new law passes, Patriot should be grandfathered and able to continue operation.
But that's not how the governor's office sees it.
Governor's office spokesman Rob Nichols said Tuesday they believe only two approved methods of disposal for treated brine exist, and Patriot's method isn't one of them.
The budget would prohibit disposal of oilfield waste fluids by:
placement in ground water
placement on land
discharge in surface water
Source: House Bill 59
''Right now in the state with the brine water from these wells, you can either put it in the ground in an injection well, or if the county commissioners agreed to it, it could be placed on the roads,'' Nichols said.
About 98 percent goes into injection wells, or deep wells where oilfield waste is injected for permanent disposal, he said. The other 2 percent is used for highway snow and ice removal.
''If you want permission for an alternate form of disposal, you could go to the ODNR (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) and argue for it,'' Nichols said. ''This is going to apply to anyone who wants to do something other than the two preferred methods.''
When asked, Nichols would not acknowledge Patriot's treatment plant as an approved method of disposal for brine. Brine is wastewater containing high amounts of salt and chemicals produced during the natural gas and oil drilling process.
Blocksom argued Tuesday that the state is going out of its way to try to put him out of business. He believes it's because his company offers an alternative to injection well disposal that delivers fees to ODNR with every brine load injected there.
Angelo agreed. ''I would have to say the state is attempting to put this in place to control competition to their revenue stream,'' he said.
Both Blocksom and Angelo said the environmental tests they conduct far exceed the state's requirements, and none has ever indicated pollution to the surface water.
''Is there any water quality issue? No. Is there any threat to the river? No. Is there any violations? No," Blocksom said. "There's nothing we are doing wrong except these people don't want us to be in business.''
After receiving approval more than two years ago by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to operate in the state, ODNR last year shut down Patriot's operation for several months claiming it was not environmentally safe. Patriot challenged the ruling before a state Environmental Review Appeals Commission and won approval about three months later to operate.
The company now is suing ODNR for more than $3 million alleging the agency's shutdown led to the company's loss of business.
ODNR continues to object to the company's methods but has not issued any violations nor attempted again to shut down the company's operations.
The governor's proposed legislation could do just that, though.
''The state feels that we need appropriate safeguards in place to protect public health,'' Nichols said. ''We just want to establish clear rules and guidelines for this. It's too important of an industry. It's too early in the shale play to leave this up to ambiguity.''
That just raises more questions for Blocksom.
''You have a state agency that says you would rather take this stuff that I meticulously test to make sure it's safe before we reintroduce it, yet they would rather say that it's OK to dump it on the roads without any treatment whatsoever,'' Blocksom said.
A message left Tuesday for ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle was not immediately returned. She did, however, recently tell the Columbus Dispatch that the agency supports the proposed change.