State must protect water

It’s not yet clear whether the potentially dangerous situation that’s been created by Austin Master Services storing what Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said is excess quantities of toxic drilling waste at the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel plant in Martins Ferry has been addressed.

We should know more in the coming days whether the company, which is permitted to house 600 tons of brine and other drilling waste but apparently has 10,000 tons on site, has begun the process of complying with its permit and cleaning up the site.

What is clear is that our region’s freshwater supply — the Ohio River — was unnecessarily placed in real danger over the past two weekends as heavy rain led to flooding. That flooding entered into the facility in which Austin Master is housed, according to Martins Ferry officials.

The river’s crest on April 6, had it been just a few feet higher, would have infiltrated where the waste is stored, resident Ron Reed told council on Wednesday.

That could have been disastrous if the waste had leaked into the Ohio River — particularly since, as Yost alleges, the company has allowed radioactive liquids and sludge to flow uncontained on the floor and that it used unpermitted storage containers to store waste products.

In his initial complaint filed in Belmont County Common Pleas Court, Yost noted “the plant’s proximity to the Ohio River (about 500 feet) and to a drinking water well field (1,000 feet) for the city of Martins Ferry” as his primary concerns. Also, “the waste currently onsite exceeds the facility’s storage capacity, and the risk of overflow poses a significant threat to the surrounding area and to public health.

Additionally, an inspection by (the Ohio Department of Natural Resources) found that the facility’s operators are storing waste outside of the facility’s structures designed for containment.”

This never should have been allowed to happen. If all that Yost alleges is true, then what happened to the oversight from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources?

Why didn’t city leaders in Martins Ferry raise the alarm earlier (particularly since Reed and others have addressed this concern at a number of city council meetings)? Are we that far removed from the 2014 chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River that the lessons purportedly learned then have been forgotten — or ignored?

Have we forgotten the chemical plume that traveled down the Ohio River just a year ago following the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine?

If we want sufficient energy — and natural gas is the leading generation source in the U.S. at 43.1% of all energy produced in 2023, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration — then we will have to deal with the byproducts created by drilling. That’s not in question.

What is in question is why any governmental agency would have permitted a natural gas waste storage facility 500 feet from the Ohio River and 1,000 feet from a drinking water well field. And why that same agency — the ODNR — is now clamming up when the public comes seeking answers.

The people in this region, on both sides of the Ohio River, deserve to know what’s going on. By being evasive, the ODNR is simply adding to residents’ anxiety.

Even if Austin Master had followed all the state guidelines, having this facility that close to a main drinking water supply for 5 million people makes absolutely no sense.

Now it’s up to the state of Ohio to sort out this mess and ensure the facility is properly cleaned up and poses no threat to our region. That needs to happen immediately.


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