Fracking Up – Seismic Activity Disrupts Ohio Industry Plans
2012 had barely begun when I got the following text from a friend in Ohio:
“Magnitude 4 earthquake in Youngstown today. Shook my brother’s house.”
We had just been talking about fracking the other day in Youngstown, where tremors had begun occuring last March after a deep injection well had opened for the disposal of brine from oil and gas operations. Although nothing conclusive had been proven, some of the locals were sure that the earthquakes were linked to the deep injection well run by Northstar Disposal Services, LLC just north of Youngstown. As it turns out, they may be right. Channel 5 News reported the following on the story earlier this week:
“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…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.”
That’s good news for local residents who have been fighting the injection wells, and the larger issue of fracking in Ohio. But it’s bad news for an industry that claims there is no evidence linking fracking and deep injection wells to seismic activity. This was a point that the ODNR–Ohio’s state environmental agency–was quick to reject, claiming that “injection wells are different from drilling wells that employ fracking.”
The latest incident occurred in McDonald, a small town a few miles Northwest of Youngstown. And the fact that all of the seismic activity had occurred within 100 meters of the well only raised more concerns about the links between injecting brine deep underground and earthquakes. What ultimately led to the temporary halt to operations was when the ODNR brough in seismologist John Armbruster of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. Armbruster had been monitoring activity in the area during the Decemer events, and reported the latest links between the well and quakes.
Of course, Ohio’s Governor John “brill baby drill” Kasich, as well as the oil and gas industry, were quick to go on the offensive, as reported by Channel 5.
A spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, an outspoken supporter of the growing oil and natural gas industry in Ohio, said the shale industry shouldn’t be punished for a fracking byproduct.
“That would be the equivalent of shutting down the auto industry because a scrap tire dump caught fire somewhere,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.
He said 177 deep injection wells have operated without incident in Ohio for decades and the Youngstown well was closed within 24 hours of a study detailing how close a Christmas Eve quake was to the well.
The industry-supported Ohio Oil and Gas Association said the rash of quakes was “a rare and isolated event that should not cast doubt about the effectiveness” of injection wells.
Such wells “have been used safely and reliably as a disposal method for wastewater from oil and gas operations in the U.S. since the 1930s,” the association’s executive vice president, Thomas E. Stewart, said in a statement Monday.
It’s also useful to keep in mind the larger context of fracking in Ohio, and its growth over the past few years. Hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus and Utica Shales went from only one in 2006 to over 30 by the end of 2011.
More on energy hedging here.