Ohio halts operations at injection wells after earthquake

Kris Alingod – AHN News Contributor

Youngstown, OH, United States (AHN) – Ohio has decided to halt fracking operations at wells in Youngstown Township following a magnitude 4 earthquake on Saturday, hours before revelers celebrated the New Year.

Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer on Tuesday announced a suspension on five fluid injection wells while making clear conclusive evidence had yet to be found linking the temblor with activities at the wells.

“While our research doesn’t point to a clear and direct correlation to drilling at this site and seismic activity, we will never gamble when safety is a factor,” Zehringer said.

Ten quakes have occurred within two miles of the wells in the past eight months. All were lower than magnitude 2.7, registering as low-level seismic events. Surface damage generally takes place during quakes of magnitude 4 or higher.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the event on Saturday happened five miles from Youngstown at a depth of 1.4 miles. The quake was felt as far as Lockport, NY, and Ontario, Canada.

Zehringer said his agency had previously enlisted scientists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to help find information about the quakes. New findings showed that a temblor occurred on Dec. 24 within a mile of one injection site, two miles below the surface of the earth.

“As a precautionary measure we’ve reached agreement with the well’s owner to halt injections until we are able to further assess and determine any potential links with recent seismic events,” Zehringer said.

The class II injection well is owned and operated by Youngstown-based Northstar Disposal Services. The four other wells were shuttered before becoming operational.

All five wells are used to dispose of wastewater from fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

Thomas Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said in a statement he fully supports halting operations at the wells but that any future decisions must be made based on sound science.

“We believe the situation in Youngstown is a rare and isolated event that should not cast doubt about the effectiveness or usage of Class II Injection wells, which have been used safely and reliably as a disposal method for wastewater from oil and gas operations in the U.S. since the 1930s, ” Steward added.

Briana Mordick, science fellow for the National Resources Defense Council, called for updated regulations to keep up with research and to require owners of class II injection wells to consider seismic risks before choosing locations.

Citing a 2007 study, she said, “The science on the risk of induced seismicity from fluid injection is well established… Researchers have determined the probability of inducing an earthquake of a given magnitude based on injection pressure, time, and geologic and geophysical properties of the injection site.”

Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas by injecting chemicals underground at high pressure to fracture formations of shale and other rocks, thereby releasing trapped gas. The process has been linked to contaminated tap water, watersheds and surrounding air, prompting jurisdictions such as Buffalo, NY, and Pittsburgh, PA, to ban it altogether despite the economic boom and jobs it provides.

Fracking is on the rise nationwide, and Ohio is one of several states seeking to expand areas for drilling. According to Zehringer, all of the state’s other 172 class II injection wells will not be affected by the suspension and will continue operating.

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