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Update: Veto area now dealing with oil spill

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 5:40 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 20, 2021 at 5:41 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ohio (WTAP) - Veto Lake has long been a destination for recreational boaters and fishermen.

The area is also the location of oil and gas drilling sites.

Whether by coincidence or otherwise, oil was found in the lake this week.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources was dispatched to the scene. In response to our inquiry, the DNR issued a statement saying it believes the problem was the result of a failure of a previously unidentified oil well.

“The Division of Wildlife is performing a rapid emergency drawdown at Veto Lake due to what we now believe to be a cap failure on a previously unidentified abandoned oil well,” spokeswoman Stephanie O’Grady said in a statement. “The lake level will be drawn down in a controlled manner until it reaches the level necessary to properly assess the situation and make the needed repair. During and following the drawdown, we will be monitoring the dam embankments and abutments to ensure the integrity of the structure is not impacted. Existing gate structures on the lake are controlling the water flow to ensure contaminated water does not travel downstream.

People we spoke to earlier this month, concerned about possible contamination of their private wells from drilling wastewater, are even more skeptical about this situation.

But they told us the bigger concern is not to their own wells, but to public water supplies, even to cities like Marietta and Belpre.

“It only takes a couple of gallons of freshwater for someone to live,” Mark Fulton, President of the RAMPP Company, said in an interview last week. “We’re opening up a keg of dynomite here; if we contaminate our groundwater, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“I have talked to some people who have knowledge of this kind of thing happening out west,” said a landowner who declined to go on camera, “and it cost millions of dollars to have water piped out to a town out there, because if produced water ends up in the aquafer out there, they told us that this water would never be drank again.”

The ODNR says no wildlife has been affected by the spill.

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The RAMPP Company, just outside Marietta, produces tools used by both the water and oil and gas industry.

It’s several miles away from the area where a suspect oil and gas drilling operation is located.

But it has seen traces of the wastewater that operation is producing. And Company President Mark Fulton is concerned about the contaminants people believe are coming from it.

“We’ve seen it come to the surface here, and they’ve seen it come out to the Veto area,” Fulton told us. “And it’s going to take the path of least resistance, from the reports that we’ve read, what’s in the water-the heavy metals-it’s going to contaminate the groundwater sooner or later.”

In 2020, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management commissioned a study of reports of an increased flow of salt water, also known as brine, or wastewater, from a saltwater injection well located in Dunham Township.

The study resulted from concerns raised by residents, many of whom have private wells located on their properties.

“The lord only knows how many wells were drilled here that weren’t plugged; and the pipes rotting in them,” said one resident, who declined to be identified. “I own land myself down here that has three or four of these wells. They’re open to the atmosphere, with oil and gas bubbling up out of them, and we’re concerned that it’s going to be in our fresh drinking water before long.”

The ODNR’s report of the study conducted by a private contractor said, “The (Groundwater and Environmental Services) investigation concluded that none of the water wells that were sampled were impacted by brine associated with the Redbone #4 injection well.”

Residents of the Veto Road area are not convinced. Many have their own wells that supply them with natural gas they say have now been ruined by the wastewater they’ve seen surface on their land.

“Many utility owners here have lost their free gas,” the individual we interviewed told us, “and there’s no utility gas here, so they’re going to have to convert to propane or some other means to heat their homes, because they’ve lost their wells on their own property (and) the income from them. Worse than that, the mineral rights on this land have been destroyed, because the water has flooded all the mineral rights and the zones that could be drilled and produced.”

Both Fulton and the people we spoke to say they’re not opposed to oil and gas drilling. They believe, however, that it needs to be done safely.

The ODNR says depths of water wells and the distance from the injection well were among the factors in the study. Residents believe more studies from agencies such as the EPA are needed.

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