In March 2012, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) conducted a study linking the 12 earthquakes that have occurred in Youngstown, OH to injection wells located in the city. Further, recent investigative reports by ProPublica show that these new dumping grounds – with a staggering 150,000 injection wells in 33 states and 10 trillion gallons of toxic fluid underground – are a public health hazard in the making.
And yet, for the most part, hardly anyone is talking about it.
Preferred Fluids Management LLC is the upstart business that received two well injection permits from the ODNR in the spring of 2011 that motivated the “Bill of Rights” initiative. Industry front groups ranging from Energy in Depth (EID), Energy Citizens, Ohio Energy Resource Alliance and “Mansfielders for Jobs” are leading the charge in the astroturf campaign to defeat it.
Why, though, has the fracking industry put so much time and effort into the placement of a measly two injection wells in Mansfield for this relatively unheard of LLC? Michael Chadsey of EID Ohio explained the importance of the waste dumping grounds at a forum on Jan. 30, 2012, stating,
If for some reason they just said, you know, we’re going to stop this process, eventually the tanks that are on-site are going to get filled up. And then all the drilling pads are going to have to shut down and all of the truck drivers will have to stop.
So…this is the part of the process that is the end part of the process. When you shut down the end, you can’t even start or continue because you have to have all the pieces of the puzzle to make this thing move. Everything is interconnected.
There’s that and then there’s the fact that Preferred Fluids Management LLC isn’t merely a “new kid on the block.” Owned and founded by Steven Mobley, the business has a story of its own worthy of sharing, as it’s closely connected to gas industry powerhouse, Chesapeake Energy.
Preferred Fluids Management LLC: A Quick Primer
According to documents on the Ohio Secretary of State’s Division of Corporations website, Preferred Fluids Management was originally incorporated in February 2010. Since then, fracking waste injection wells have been in the eye of the backlash storm from grassroots activists, environmental NGOs, lawyers, and both federal- and state-level regulators nationwide.
In Ohio, this ongoing backlash motivated Preferred Fluids to withdraw its Mansfield well permits on June 26, 2012.
“While this withdrawal appears to be a city victory over a company that sought to injection toxic poison into our soil, the city must remain vigilant against other companies,” Mansfield Mayor Tim Theaker and Law Director John Spon declared.
Roughly three weeks later, Preferred Fluids responded by filing a federal lawsuit in the Northern District Court of Ohio, stating that Mansfield “has no right under Ohio law to regulate the injection wells,” according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In response to the lawsuit, on Sept. 9 the Mansfield City Council voted to put the “Community Bill of Rights” referendum on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election.
“The need to adopt the charter amendment is even greater because it’s very possible that this industry is just regrouping to commence another assault,” Mansfield Law Director John Spon told the Mansfield News Journal, foreshadowing the astroturf battle citizens and grassroots activists are facing in Mansfield.
On Oct 5, 2011 Preferred Fluids Management owner Steven Mobley also incorporated a new company, Buckeye Brine LLC, according to the Ohio Department of State’s Division of Corporations. “It seeks to be a positive force in the communities in which it operates, buying and hiring locally whenever possible, with a strong commitment to local community causes,” according to Buckeye Brine’s website.
The Coshocton Tribune explained that, like Mobley’s Preferred Fluids Management proposal in Mansfield, the plan is to place two injection wells in Coshocton, a city of just over 11,000 southeast of Mansfield.
Mobley Family Connection to Chesapeake, Injection Wells, Earthquakes
The unanswered question remains on the table: who is Steven Mobley?
Steven and David were both formerly partial co-owners of their family business, Mobley Environmental Services, according to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) forms. Businessweek’s profile for Mobley Environmental Services reads,
In May 1997, Mobley Environmental Services, Inc. sold its only operating division, waste management services, to United States Filter Corporation…It also provided oilfield services, including transporting, marketing, storing, and disposing of various liquid materials used or produced as waste throughout the lifecycle of oil and gas wells.
In 1999, Vivendi Environnement aquired United States Filter Corporation for $6.2 billion. Vivendi Environnement is now known as Veolia Environnement and remains in the oil and gas industry wastewater treatment sector. Facing hard financial times in 2004, Veolia sold US Filter for $1 billion to the German corporation, Siemens, which is also in the oil and gas industry wastewater treatment business.
The frightening and growing nexus between the water privatization industry, the shale gas industry, and the wastewater treatment industry has been pointed out in reports authored by both the Colorado Independent and Food and Water Watch.
Like Mobley Environmental Services and its predecessors – and like Preferred Fluids Management and Buckeye Brine – Chesapeake Operating is also in the fracking wastewater injection business, notorious for its activity in Arkansas.
Paralleling Ohio, Arkansas, home of the Fayetteville Shale basin, has seen over 1,200 waste injection well-related earthquakes, leading the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission to place a ban on injection wells in July 2011 in the area where the earthquakes were most prevalent, though there are still wells in other areas across the state. A February 2011 magnitude 4.7 earthquake near Greenbrier, “was the most powerful to hit the state in 35 years,” according to the Associated Press.
AP further explained that Chesapeake Energy was one of the main well injection operating culprits:
The two injection wells are used to dispose of wastewater from natural-gas production. One is owned by Chesapeake Energy, and the other by Clarita Operating. They agreed March 4 to temporarily cease injection operations at the request of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission.
The barrage of earthquakes served as a motivation for an ongoing class action lawsuit filed by Emerson Poynter LLP in May 2011 at the federal-level Faulkner County Circuit Court in Conway, AR against Chesapeake Operating, as well as BHP Billiton, Petroleum Americas Inc., and Clarita Operating LLC.
In a press release, Emerson Poynter explained it is suing for “millions of dollars in damages for property damage, loss of fair market value in real estate, emotional distress, and damages related to the purchase of earthquake insurance.”
Since the closure of the two injection wells, the number of earthquakes occuring in the area has fallen dramatically, according to the Arkansas Geological Survey.
Chesapeake is closely tethered to or is a member of all of the front groups waging the gas industry’s astroturf campaign in Mansfield, except for the shadowy “Mansfielders for Jobs,” including Energy in Depth, American Petroleum Institute, the Buckeye Energy Forum (API front group), and the Ohio Energy Resource Alliance (OERA).
OERA is an API front group led by the former head of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Ohio, Rebecca Heimlich, who now also serves as Campaign Manager for API Ohio. OERA’s members include EID Ohio,API, the Ohio Oil & Gas Association (OOGA), and America’s Natural Gas Alliance, among others. Chesapeake is also a member of OOGA and ANGA.
Big Picture: Chesapeake’s Big Plans in the Utica Shale
Cheseapeake, a company currently in deep financial straits, sees the Utica Shale basin as a potential saving grace, with Forbes saying that the Utica is “crucial for Cheseapeake’s future” in a July article.
In a recent call with investors, controversial CEO Aubrey McClendon said he’s “thrilled” with its potential. He also said that Chesapeake is particularly focused on production in Columbiana, Carroll and Harrisoncounties.
These counties are all within 50-100 miles of Richland and Coshocton counties, the two counties where Preferred Fluid Management LLC’s and Buckeye Brine LLC’s operations are both set to be located, respectively. That makes Richland and Coshocton easily accessible dumping grounds for Chesapeake’s toxic waste.
The fracking waste injection business is a burgeoning and lucrative one, but with it comes huge costs that go above and beyond earthquakes alone.
“In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years at the EPA’s underground injection program told ProPublica. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”
Grassroots activists have pledged to fight this one tooth and nail as the high stakes battle goes down to the wire.
“The battle lines are being drawn between the greed of the oil and gas industry and the rights of individuals at the local level, Bill Baker, an organizer for Frack Free Ohio told DeSmogBlog in an interview. “Powerful organizations with no vested interest in the Mansfield community, other than to turn it into a toxic waste dump, are spending millions in advertising to convince citizens to vote ‘no’ on the Bill of Rights.”