Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 9:43 AM

Erin O’Brien describes the difficulties she encountered in reporting this week’s cover story, “Drill Baby Drill":

The research required sorting through complex regulations. At times, I turned to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) for help and clarification. But every ODNR representative I spoke with wanted my questions in writing. I often felt like they were trying to get me off the phone. The ODNR did eventually respond to my queries, but not until after my deadline. An e-mail snafu contributed to the delay.

Scott Kell, deputy chief of the Ohio Division of Mineral Resource Management, had this to say about his agency’s policy regarding data-tracking for well incidents: “The ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management responds to all citizen or industry-reported oil release incidents that are reported to us. Owners routinely provide courtesy notice to DMRM regarding oil releases in spite of the fact that federal regulations do not require such notice. Because existing rules do not mandate notification of DMRM, we cannot currently claim that we have a complete accounting of all oil releases. This does not mean that we don’t ‘track’ releases and subsequent remedial efforts at those releases that are reported to us.” (Complete statement here.)

Field Inspector Norburt Lowder’s August 18 “Notice of Violation” report regarding the well next to my house said this: “Approximately 1-1.5 bbl of fluids (water and crude oil) was released covering an area approximately (10’X20’). The soil was scraped up and a lined dike was constructed to hold the fluids and the soil. This area is approximately 10’X20’ and will be removed when the swabbing operation is completed in 2-3 days. While on site I checked area for gas using my meter. NO Natural Gas or H2S was detected.”

However, when I had asked Lowder about testing weeks earlier, he had said he did not conduct air tests during his inspection. I called him to clear up the conflicting information

“I didn’t remember at the time,” said Lowder in reference to our first conversation. “It’s something I normally do without question. I have [the meter] on me all the time. I just do it.”

As for the 10-by-20-foot affected area, Lowder reported, the newly seeded area next to the well is approximately 50-by-90-feet (I measured it). I asked Lowder about that discrepancy. He declined to elaborate and asked me to put any additional questions in writing.

“That’s the way the directive is coming down from our Columbus office,” he said. “I’ve stretched my limit right now.”

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