Thursday, January 5, 2012
Youngstown Rocks: Is Fracking Causing Earthquakes in Ohio? by John Avlon
Until 2011, Youngstown had never recorded an earthquake. Now it has registered 11. Is fracking changes the facts in the ground?
CLEVELAND — A northeast Ohio well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas drilling almost certainly caused a series of 11 minor quakes in the Youngstown area since last spring, a seismologist investigating the quakes said Monday.
Research is continuing on the now-shuttered injection well at Youngstown and seismic activity, but it might take a year for the wastewater-related rumblings in the earth to dissipate, said John Armbruster of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.
Brine wastewater dumped in wells comes from drilling operations, including the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale that has been a source of concern among environmental groups and some property owners. Injection wells have also been suspected in quakes in Ashtabula in far northeast Ohio, and in Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma, Armbruster said.
Thousands of gallons of brine were injected daily into the Youngstown well that opened in 2010 until its owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC, agreed Friday to stop injecting the waste into the earth as a precaution while authorities assessed any potential links to the quakes.
After the latest and largest quake Saturday at 4.0 magnitude, state officials announced their beliefs that injecting wastewater near a fault line had created enough pressure to cause seismic activity. They said four inactive wells within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well would remain closed. But they also stressed that injection wells are different from drilling wells that employ fracking.
Armbruster said Monday he expects more quakes will occur despite the shutdown of the Youngstown well.
"The earthquakes will trickle on as a kind of a cascading process once you've caused them to occur," he said. "This one year of pumping is a pulse that has been pushed into the ground, and it's going to be spreading out for at least a year."
The quakes began last March with the most recent on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve each occurring within 100 meters of the injection well. The Saturday quake in McDonald, outside of Youngstown, caused no serious injuries or property damage.
Youngstown Democrat Rep. Robert Hagan on Monday renewed his call for a moratorium on fracking and well injection disposal to allow a review of safety issues.
"If it's safe, I want to do it," he said in a telephone interview. "If it's not, I don't want to be part and parcel to destruction of the environment and the fake promise of jobs."