Fracking Suspected in Rash of Ohio Earthquakes

A fracking injection well in Youngstown, Ohio, has been shutdown following a 4.0 magnitude earthquake that occurred Saturday. According to a report from The New York Times, the earthquake was the 11th since mid-March to occur near the injection well, which is used to dispose of millions of gallons of brine and other waste liquids produced at natural-gas wells undergoing hydraulic fracturing in nearby Pennsylvania.

“In our minds, we were already pretty convinced that these events were connected to the well,” John Armbruster, a seismologist with Columbia University’s Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory, told the Times. “Having that many earthquakes fairly close to a well in Ohio, where there aren’t a lot of earthquakes, was suspicious.”

According to the Times, the Youngstown injection well, which is owned by D&L Energy Group, is 9,200 feet deep. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources asked that injections at the well be halted on December 30, following a 2.7 magnitude tremblor that occurred less than 2,000 feet below the well on Christmas Eve. The 4.0 New Years Eve quake, which could be felt throughout northeastern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania, and as far as Morgantown, W.Va., and even Toronto, prompted Ohio officials to impose a moratorium on injections at that well. They also declared that four inactive wells within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well would remain closed, according to a report from The New York Daily News.

None of the 11 quakes located near the fracking injection well have done any damage, but one Youngstown resident told The New York Times that from the way his house shook on Saturday, he had thought a tree had fallen on it.

Depth estimates of earlier earthquakes were not precise, the Times said, because of a lack of data. However, instruments installed by scientists from Lamont allow for much better estimates for the two most recent tremblors. Depth estimates from the New Years Eve earthquake will be available later this week.

Unfortunately for people in Youngstown, the halting of injections at the well is unlikely to end the quakes, according to the Daily News. “The earthquakes will trickle on as a kind of a cascading process once you’ve caused them to occur,” Armbruster 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 Youngstown earthquake swarm has renewed calls in Ohio for a moratorium on fracking activities there.

“If it’s safe, I want to do it,” State Rep. Robert Hagan (D-Youngtstown) told the Daily News 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.”

This is not the first time a fracking-related operation has been linked to earthquakes. Last year, a similar occurrence in Arkansas prompted the closure of several underground fracking waste disposal sites. At the time, it was reported that 90 percent of the earthquakes recorded in Arkansas since 2009 had occurred within six kilometers of salt water disposal sites associated with fracking operations. In 2009, the disposal of fracking wastewater was also named a possible suspect in a series of earthquakes that plagued North Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, prompting Chesapeake to close two nearby disposal wells as a precautionary measure. A possible link to fracking and earthquake activity has also been investigated in West Virginia and Colorado.

In the Canadian province of British Columbia, regulators are trying to determine if a recent upsurge in earthquake activity in the extreme northeastern corner of the province could be the result of fracking. Just this past November, Cuadrilla Resources Ltd., a company engaged in hydraulic fracturing in the United Kingdom (UK), said its fracking most likely caused two small earthquakes near Blackpool, England. Britain suspended hydraulic fracturing after two quakes –occurred last April and May, just 500 meters from the Cuadrilla natural gas well.

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