Quake study sets off new fracking debate


Tribune Chronicle

WARREN – New research published last week linking hydraulic fracturing and deep underground waste disposal to seismic tremors has touched off more questions on the already hotly debated topic.

State Rep. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, Monday morning spoke briefly to listeners on Columbus talk radio 610 WTVN, saying while he doesn’t oppose the economic development triggered by the oil and gas industry, he argues it’s necessary to move more slowly while scientists get a better handle on what it could mean for the environment.

“I don’t want to turn my back on the opportunity for more jobs,” Hagan said on the Joel Riley talk show. “On the other hand, I think we have to move slowly and more carefully so that we are not just running willy-nilly into something that could cause danger to our environment.”

Hagan appeared on the show after a study released Friday by Science Magazine linked fracking and injection well disposal to seismic activity.

The study reported that while research does indicate minor earthquakes are “routinely produced as part of the hydraulic fracturing process used to stimulate the production of oil,” history has shown those quakes have been magnitude 2 or lower with low risk of destruction.

“More than 100,000 wells have been subjected to fracking in recent years, and the largest induced earthquake was magnitude 3.6,” the study states.

Attention turned to the matter with great fervor after a number of earthquakes occurred in 2011 with an epicenter near a Youngstown injection well.

Eleven quakes in the Youngstown area that year were capped off with a 4.0 temblor on New Year’s Eve 2011. A report ultimately released by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources concluded the well owned by D&L Energy Systems had been drilled into a previously undiscovered geologic fault line.

The ODNR report suggested that the earthquakes were the result of brine water lubricating that fault line and causing it to slip. Since the well has been taken off line, the seismic activity has appeared to subside.

“As the study indicates, there could be more earthquakes. There could be more injection well problems,” Hagan said.

Steve Everley of Energy in Depth, a public outreach campaign for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, however, fired back in his blog Monday, noting that research also shows that some earthquakes, even those near injection wells, may be triggered by seismic activity not related to the well.

“These are important findings, for reasons that should be obvious: Only a handful of injection wells are actually associated with felt seismic events, meaning these are incredibly rare,” Everley said.

While opponents, like Hagan, have suggested waste disposal into Class II Injection Wells should be slowed or stopped, Everley suggests the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has described injection wells as a “safe and inexpensive option” for disposing of industrial waste.

Everley, who works for an organization advocating the oil and natural gas industry, points out however that not all wastewater disposed in injection wells comes from the oil and gas industry.

“If we banned hydraulic fracturing tomorrow … there would still be issues and risks to manage with respect to disposal wells,” Everley said.