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Injection well project moves forward

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Work on two saltwater injection wells by Omni Energy Co. in East Richland will proceed after a conflict with the Ohio Department of Transportation was resolved.

The project faced stiff local opposition since the announcement in December that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources had approved the permit. Area officials and residents expressed concern about the proximity of homes, county buildings, Belmont County Correctional Institution and educational centers, as well as expected heavy truck traffic that would accompany such a project.

Omni officials said all studies were completed and state inspectors are on site monitoring operations. Drilling of the first well is underway, according to Stephanie O’Grady, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The company is scheduled to complete cementing of that shaft this week.

“The next step is to drill the surface casing string, the intermediate casing string, and the production casing string, followed by cementing of each. An ODNR inspector will be on hand to witness this step. Once this well is drilled and cemented, Omni plans to move the rig and immediately begin drilling the second well,” she said in an email. “The drilling seems to be going according to schedule. The Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management will continue to monitor the drilling process.”

More recently, ODOT contested Omni’s use of another property to access the work site without authorization.

Chris Gagin, an attorney representing Omni, said the issue was resolved this week as far as Omni’s operations were concerned.

“The property in question sits in front of the J.B. Green building on Pickering Road, across the street from Omni’s property. Wesley and Michelle Neal own the property,” he said.

“Historically, there has always been a driveway that goes off of U.S. 40 onto that property, and that driveway was important to Omni for the larger loads, and so OMNI rented that property from the Neals,” Gagin said.

Omni first raised the issue of loads using that route to ODOT in July 2019.

“In December of last year, when ODOT gave us our permit to install a permanent driveway … we laid it out for them what we intended to do, and ODOT didn’t say anything up until the point on March 23 when we started bringing the bigger equipment, the bigger drilling rigs onto that site using the Neal driveway,” Gagin said. “We were nothing but transparent. … Because this project is so controversial, you’ve got to operate that way.”

He said that on March 24, ODOT issued an order to the Neals and Omni for the company not to use the Neal driveway, giving five days for the company to comply. That period ended Monday. Gagin filed a lawsuit Monday.

“(Monday) we reached an agreement with ODOT on the location of a new construction driveway on Omni’s property, off of U.S. 40 westbound. It’s going to be similar to the permanent driveway,” he said.

Traffic will be permitted only to make right hand turns in and out of the new access route.

“Prior to (Monday) ODOT was telling us it was going to be at least 30 days before they would get back to us for our application for that construction driveway, so by filing the lawsuit what was going to take 30 days took three hours,” Gagin said.

Omni will continue to move forward with operations uninterrupted.

The company originally intended to make use of Pickering Road.

“Because we have our new construction driveway, all of our heavy stuff will come in off of U.S. 40,” Gagin said. “Pickering is a public road and J.B. Green utilizes that road for its heavy solid-waste packer trucks all the time. It’s not as if there’s not heavy traffic on Pickering ever.”

Regarding use of Pickering Road, Richland Township trustees had indefinitely tabled a proposed road use maintenance agreement in 2019.

Gagin noted there have been multiple lawsuits surrounding the project, including one by the late Robert E. “Bob” Murray, who owned Murray Energy Corp. with headquarters nearby. Gagin said he believes the project will go forward regardless.

“Drilling operations started last week. They’ve gone well. ODNR have had their inspectors on site,” Gagin said.

Omni has started cementing the upper portion of the well to protect underground aquifers. Once that sets and is inspected, the deeper phase of drilling will begin, to be completed within 30 days. ODNR will then begin pressure tests and other tests of the site. Omni can then apply for a permit to inject.

Belmont County Commissioner Jerry Echemann said the commissioners have listened to local concerns but have no jurisdiction in this matter.

“We’ve been opposed, the Belmont County commission has been since the very start of that situation due to its close proximity to everything and the amount of traffic in that area. We’re very sorry that that came to pass,” he said. “We’ve been in the process of contacting our state lawmakers to have some of the state regulations changed so that you can’t put one of these so close to populated areas such as this, so close to the interstate. There are plenty of places out in more remote areas where this would have been much more appropriate.”

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