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Curtis Morrison: ‘Is the fracking industry about to Peter E. Jolly Kentucky’s water supply?’


Fracking works by injecting liquids into wells to release oil or natural gas.

By Curtis Morrison

The practice of injecting liquids beneath Kentucky’s bluegrass and hoping for the best is not new.

Owensboro businessman Peter E. Jolly knows all about it.

In the 1980’s, Jolly used a process called “enhanced recovery” in Western Kentucky’s Hancock County. Jolly would force water or steam into a well that had been dormant since the 1950’s and wrestle up the last bit of oil that was missed before.

That’s right. Hipsters didn’t invent the dumpster-diving-scavenger-re-use mindset.

Jolly was clearly ahead of his time. Getting something where everyone else thought there was nothing. Jolly knew how to bust a moby.

One problem: Many of the wells Jolly injected were drilled in the 1920’s. That was a long time ago. Think Prohibition, Walton’s Mountain, Jed Clampett. Good times.

The down side to drilling injection wells is that the concrete liner around the shaft needs to last, well, forever.

If the liner fails and allows poisonous gases deep below the surface to escape into a community’s aquifer – aka “drinking water” – then we have a mess that can’t be repaired.

And concrete, whether poured in 1920 or 2012, doesn’t last forever.

After Jolly had extracted every last bit of black gold from his injection wells, he often didn’t cap them correctly, and/or document the monitoring of the wells from there on out. It wasn’t until 1992 that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency informed Jolly he was in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act.

This month, an Associated Press story  reveals the EPA’s efforts to collect $1.5 million from Jolly in penalties for polluted oil wells in Western Kentucky have been unsuccessful.

Jolly, who now lives in Cocoa Beach, Florida, cites poverty and illness for reasons he has not paid the penalties. Whether Jolly has the money to pay the penalties is difficult, if not downright impossible, to determine.

Jolly’s a longtime master skilled at using corporations to hide his financial interest and assets. In fact, when we were watching the dirty rotten scoundrel J.R. Ewing in the 1978 debut of Dallas, Jolly had already founded JAF Oil in California. He’s owned several corporations. Sometimes they file bankruptcy. Sometimes they deed assets to other corporations for $1. It’s how he rolls.

So, what’s all this have to do with today?

In February 2012, GreenHunter Water, a subsidy of the fracking corporation GreenHunter Energy, paid $8.8 million for three commercial saltwater disposal wells and associated facilities located in Ohio and Eastern Kentucky’s Lee County.

“This acquisition accelerates our growth plan and puts us on track to achieve 12,500 BBL/D total injection capacity in the Marcellus and Utica Shale plays by the end of 2012,” stated GreenHunter President and COO, Jonathan D. Hoopes, in a press release.

Neither the Marcellus nor the Utica Shale layers are beneath Kentucky, however. They lie beneath West Virginia, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. That won’t stop GreenHunter from bringing in the toxic stuff other communities won’t take and disposing of it within Kentucky’s injection wells with unbridled spirit.

According to documentation published with a story in  in Propublica last week, Kentucky has 17,580 injection wells broken down as follows:

  • 2 wells: Class I Other wells, Class 1 wells handle the most hazardous materials, including fertilizers, acids and deadly compounds such as asbestos, PCBs and cyanide.
  • 3403 wells: Class II wells which are typically disposal wells and wells in which fluids are injected to force out trapped oil and gas.
  • 14,175 wells: Class V wells are a catch-all for everything left over from the other categories, including storm-water runoff from gas stations.

That means there are about 3,400 opportunities for outside communities to ship in pollutants and contaminate Kentucky’s water supply.

And once we finally notice that Kentucky water is contaminated, will we be able to go back on the polluting corporations? And for what?

Is the fracking industry about to Peter E. Jolly Kentucky’s water supply?

Some communities are already rejecting injection wastes. Check out Josh Fox’s latest mini-documentary, released last week, to find out why the city of Pittsburgh is prohibiting injection waste in their water supply:

Does anyone expect Gov. Steve ‘EPA: get off our backs!’ Beshear to put up a fight?

Remember, this is the same governor who started out June by signing House Bill 559, allowing nuclear-related industries to exist in Kentucky “as long as electricity generation is not the primary output of their processes.”

About Curtis Morrison: Curtis Morrison is a journalist who blogs at Louisville Courant. Morrison is a political activist, active in historic-preservation efforts. He is a board member of Neighborhoods Planning and Preservation.


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