The nationwide boom in hydraulic fracturing—aka fracking—means energy-extraction companies in the U.S. can produce thousands of barrels of oil and millions of cubic feet of natural gas from once-inaccessible places. They’re also producing something else: oceans of brine from drilling as well as fracking fluid, the chemical-laced water used to blast open cracks in buried rock where fossil fuel lurks. That wastewater has to go someplace. John Kasich, Ohio’s governor, isn’t sure he wants his state to be it.
The preferred way to dispose of the brine and fracking fluid—typically a stew of water and a long list of chemical additives, including rust inhibitors and antibacterial agents—is to pump it out of sight, out of mind into deep, cavernous wells built for the purpose. Ohio’s geological underbelly, composed of permeable rock formations, is ideally suited for such holding tanks. The state is home to 176 of them, operated by more than 80 companies, including an affiliate of Houston-based giant EnerVest and smaller outfits such as BT Energy in Fleming, Ohio. Compare that with just six active wells in neighboring Pennsylvania, where the geology makes drilling less practical. Over the past two decades, Ohio approved an average of four new storage wells a year. Last year, it jumped to 29.