People in Columbiana County should be paying attention to a developing situation just north of us. State government keeps sending mixed signals regarding the future of a promising new industry in Trumbull County and elsewhere in eastern Ohio.
Patriot Water in Warren accepts what is called "frac water" from hydro fracturing wells used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales. Each well uses approximately 3 million gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals.
Much of the water returns to the surface in what is called ''flowback.'' This water becomes very salty from the chemicals and additional materials it picks up during flowback. It gets treated and re-used at other wells until it becomes so heavy with solid materials that it can't be used again.
Several companies have emerged with technology they claim safely handles flowback water. One company is Patriot, which treats unrecyclable water by separating the solids for disposal and sending the rest to Warren's wastewater treatment plant.
Warren has the only permit in Ohio to accept pretreated frac water. The city runs it through its normal treatment process that results in discharge into the Mahoning River.
Patriot plans on expanding its Warren operation and opening similar plants in Columbiana and Jefferson counties. In doing so, it would bring dozens, possibly hundreds, of jobs to areas of Ohio that have been long suffering from economic woes.
Earlier this year, though, the Ohio EPA, which gave Warren a permit to process the pretreated frac water, decided that it doesn't have jurisdiction in the matter.
The Ohio EPA told Warren that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has jurisdiction, so the Ohio EPA would not renew the permit when it expires in July of 2012. ODNR said it does not grant permits for treating flowback water.
If Warren has no permit, Patriot is out of business.
A bipartisan response to save Patriot arose. Local state legislators, including State Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard, and State Rep. Craig Newbold, R-Columbiana, and economic development officials have thrown their support behind Patriot and Warren, unless, of course, evidence surfaces that the treatment process poses a risk. No such evidence has surfaced.
There appeared to be a breakthrough a couple weeks ago when Republican Gov. John Kasich paid a surprise visit to Warren. Kasich expressed optimism that Patriot and Warren would be able to resolve their problems with ODNR and Ohio EPA. Warren Water Pollution Control Director Thomas Angelo expressed similar optimism.
However, a spokeswoman for Ohio EPA subsequently said the agency stands by its position that ODNR must make the decision. And a spokeswoman for the ODNR reiterated its earlier position that there is no mechanism for Warren to get a permit to process pretreated frac water.
In the meantime, companies such as Hydro Recovery and Reserve Environmental Services are moving forward with their own technologies for treating frac water. Their advancements are creating jobs in other states while Patriot Water is held at bay here.
If there is an environmental problem with Patriot's treatment method, the state should say so. But no new data has been released since the Ohio EPA gave its blessing to Patriot and Warren.
All indications are that Ohio's permitting process, a terrible flaw for businesses in all industries during former Gov. Ted Strickland's administration that was suppose to be rectified under Kasich, is again standing in the way of business growth.