Barry County residents, and others, took the chance Wednesday to give EPA officials their opinion on the permitting of a brine well in Johnstown Township to dispose of fluids used in fracking wells.
The message to the EPA from every speaker was the same: “Don’t approve the draft permit.”
The meeting room at the Hastings Public Library was filled beyond capacity, with people lining the walls and others standing in the hallway, straining to hear. Steve Jann, chief of the Underground Injection Control Division in EPA Region 5 in Chicago, and Jeffrey Wawczak, a physical scientist who reviewed the draft Class 2 permit, answered questions.
Wawczk explained how the EPA makes sure injection wells do not harm drinking water and gave an overview of the injection process before answering questions during the first half of the three-hour meeting. The Swanson 4-7 injection well would dispose of residue from two nearby operating wells some 2,000 feet underground; it could also accept brine from any other Arbor Operations wells.
In the second half, the speakers gave their comments for the record, most applauded by the crowd at the end of their two minutes. Many read from prepared statements, others spoke off the cuff.
The crowd was polite, some thanking EPA officials for a second public comment time so they could air their concerns. Still, the opinion of all who spoke was a firm “no brine well.”
Everyone on ten pages of people who signed the attendance sheet and indicted they wanted to speak for the record, had the chance. Some clearly had done their research, asking technical questions of Jann and Wawczak. Others were more passionate, condemning the entire fracking process of injecting a mix of chemicals and sand under pressure miles underground and fracture tight-rock formations to release gas and oil.
The list of objections, as well as predictions from the skeptical crowd, was long:
Damage to the ecology, failures of injection wells, self reporting by Arbor Operations, annual site inspections of 75 to 100 wells in Michigan that has 1,400 class 2 permits, lack of EPA personnel to monitor injection wells in rural areas, proposed cuts in EPA budget and staff, and possible dissolving of the entire EPA talked of in Washington, possible lack of enforcement of violations, need for mechanical testing more often than every five years, brine fluids migrating out of the original area into a water aquifer, a possible “toxic plume for all time,” lack of core sampling, insufficient bonding, or money up front from the company to address problems, and operations being too close to residential dwellings.
Some warned of the dangers of toxic chemicals to animal and plant life as a legacy for future generations and asked who would monitor the wells in a hundred years.
For many, earthquakes were a major concern. Several gave statistics on increased seismic activity in states that allow fracking and deep injection wells. They asked for core samples of the Johnstown Township area following a 2015 earthquake to assure the ground has not been damaged and would support a brine well. A few suggested the EPA was more interested representing “big money,” than residents, and “profit before safety.”
Deb Kochin had the last word: “We don’t want to use this state as a toilet, or a drinking fountain for other states.” She was roundly applauded.
The EPA will review all the comments from the meeting, all letters and emails and respond to all significant comments before making a decision on a final permit, according to Jann. Anyone who spoke for the record or participated in the hearing, can appeal the EPA’s final decision to the Environmental Appeals Board.
Those who want to submit a comment can e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by letter to:
U.S. EPA Region 5 (WU-16J)
77 Jackson Blvd,
Letters must be postmarked before midnight on Friday, April 21, when the public comment period ends.