Bridging Science and Society: Brine Spreading in Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio


Abby Lynne Bowers, Department of Geology, The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio
Introduction

The gap between societal benefit and scientific research has recently been recognized by organizations such as the United States Geological Survey (USGS). According to the USGS, as the frameworks for technology and decision making have evolved, decentralized decision making and an increased emphasis on local and citizen participation have created a gap between science and society (Groat, 2002). Other factors leading to the gap between science and society include ineffective communication, the fragmentation of responsibility, conflicting political and economical interests, and a general lack of scientific understanding (Beratan et al., 2002). Scientific research and information are increasingly available to those outside the scientific fields; however, many cannot understand the available research and information, both of which could be invaluable in legislating environmental policies and regulations (Beratan, et al., 2002; Groat, 2002).

The USGS has begun to focus its efforts on providing scientific research that is better understood by those utilizing the information (Groat, 2002). One method has been to use more effective and broader communication to translate science to society's decision makers (Beratan, et al., 2002; Groat, 2002; Manduca, 2002). More effective communication will allow for a better scientific understanding. From this basis, the gap between science and society may begin its trek toward unity.

A powerful illustration of the gap between science and society is evident in the local debate regarding brine spreading in Wooster, Wayne County, Ohio (Figure 1) (Figure 2). Brine, an unwanted byproduct of oil and gas drilling and production operations, is composed of groundwater, salt, and volatile organic compounds (Kell et al., 2001). Though brine contains harmful VOCs and elevated chloride concentrations, if in accordance with legal guidelines, brine spreading for dust and ice control is harmless to water resources (Kell et al., 2001). However, locally, brine spreading has been known to result in well water contamination (Hothem, 2002; Zimmerman, 2002). In Wooster, private well water contamination resulted from up-gradient brine spreading at a local business. Because of the incidence of private well water contamination at this and other locations, residents and community members are now pressuring the local legislating body to ban brine spreading throughout the county.

As evidenced in the local debate, those involved often fail to consider the role of geology in determining the effects of brine spreading. The chemical constituents of brine, as well as local geologic and hydrogeologic characteristics of the region, play an important role in determining how brine effects the areas on which it is applied. Without acknowledging these considerations, the community has created confusion and the development of misconceptions that further detach society from science.


Background

Local Geology: Wooster, Ohio is located on the western edge of the glaciated Allegheny Plateau in central Wayne County in Northeastern Ohio (Figure 3) (White, 1967). Bedrock uplands and stratified drift valleys characterize Wooster and the surrounding area (Figure 4). Local bedrock, dipping to the east three degrees, belongs to the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian Systems (White, 1967). On top of the bedrock lies drift from Wisconsin glaciation, which creates the gently to moderately rolling uplands of the area. Adjacent to the uplands is the Killbuck Valley, which is a stratified-drift valley containing up to 200 feet of drift (Springer, 1990). Prolific aquifers within the glacial drift of the Killbuck Valley serve as Wooster's municipal water supply.

Local Hydrogeology: Wooster, Ohio draws water from both bedrock and buried valley aquifers; bedrock aquifers are located in the uplands, and the buried valley aquifer is located in the Killbuck Valley (Crowell, 1979). Groundwater flow in the region is generally North to South. The buried valley aquifer serves as the city's municipal water supply, and recharge to the system arrives through several routes. Recharge is a combination of surface and stream water infiltration, infilration of precipitation, lateral flow from surrounding bedrock units, and upland surface runoff (Springer, 1990).

Brine: Ohio still has an abundance of oil and gas wells throughout the state, each of which is accompanied by brine (Figure 5) Brine, an unwanted byproduct of oil and gas drilling and production operations, is composed of groundwater, salt, and volatile organic compounds (Kell et al., 2001). There are several methods for brine disposal. 90-95% of Ohio's brine is disposed of in conventional disposal wells; as of 1993, there were 177 disposal wells, 5 of which were in Wayne County (Crist, 1993). 1-2% of brine is disposed of in annular disposal wells and through enhanced recovery projects (Crist, 1993). 2-4% of Ohio's brine is used in surface applications for dust and ice control (Crist, 1993).


The Study

The purpose of my study is to examine the extent to which local geology and hydrogeology affect brine spreading licenses and policies. By examining previous geologic and hydrogeologic studies, I was able to gauge the extent of scientific information and understanding available for the area. Local brine spreading policies and applications were then checked for any geologic or hydrogeologic considerations. Also, through interviews and meetings with those involved in the brine spreading debate, I was able to determine how well or ill informed they were, and if anyone had knowledge or understanding of the available studies. I also questioned each on the role geology and hydrogeology played in determining and passing brine spreading resolutions and licenses.


Results

There is quite an array of geological and hydrogeological studies that have been completed in the area, each of which would be useful in determining the fate of brine spreading. Through my various meetings and interviews with brine spreading opponents and county and city officials, it has become clear that many are unaware of theses studies.

Preliminary results also show that brine spreading policies and licensing are void of any geologic or hydrogeologic considerations. The fact there is a lack of scientific considerations in the determination of brine spreading licenses and policies exemplifies the gap between science and society. Bridging the gap between science and society requires more effective communication and the translation of scientific research to those utilizing the information and research. Local authorities in Wooster have just begun enlisting the help of soil scientists and the Health Department in revising brine spreading regulations, and they are thus on the way toward bridging the gap.


References

Beratan, K., Karl, H., and Turner, C., 2002, Linking science and policy: the potential role of the USGS in participatory decision making, in Geological Society of America 2002 Denver Annual Meeting, Session 27: Effective Communication and/or Partnerships Among Geoscientists, the Public, and Policy Makers: Case Studies.

Crist, D. R., 1993, Management of produced waters in Ohio's oilfields, in Environmental impact of industrial activities; Proceedings of Industrial and Agricultural Impacts on the Hydrologic Environment, Volume 1, Washington, DC: Alexandria, VA, Water Environment Federation, p. 91-97.

Crowell, Katie, 1979, Groundwater resources of Wayne County, Ohio: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Water, 1 sheet.

Groat, C. G., 2002, Expanding the impact of science-communicating with communities and customers, in Geological Society of America 2002 Denver Annual Meeting, Session 27: Effective Communication and/or Partnerships Among Geoscientists, the Public, and Policy Makers: Case Studies.

Hothem, H., personal communication, October 24, 2002.

Kell, S. R., Hodges, D. A., and Kopp, C. J., 2001, Spreading oil-field brine for dust and ice control in Ohio: A guidance for local authorities: Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management, 26 p.

Manduca, C. A., 2002, Living with karst in Olmsted County: lasting partnerships bring science into decision making, in Geological Society of America 2002 Denver Annual Meeting, Session 27: Effective Communication and/or Partnerships Among Geoscientists, the Public, and Policy Makers: Case Studies.

Springer, A. E., 1990, An evaluation of well field protection area delineation methods as applied to municipal wells in the stratified-drift aquifer at Wooster, Ohio [Master's thesis]: Columbus, The Ohio State University, 167 p.

White, G. W., 1967, Glacial geology of Wayne County, Ohio: Ohio Geological Survey, Report of Investigations 62, 39 p.

Zimmerman, T., personal communication, November 8, 2002.