Scientists search for clues in quake

WEATHERSFIELD – State regulators and Columbia University scientists are working to find out if Sunday’s 2.1-magnitude earthquake centered in Weathersfield has any connection to two nearby injection wells that just received permission to operate there in March.

The quake was centered about 10 miles northwest of Youngstown, according to information recorded by the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. The quake, minor by geologic standards, occurred at 5:34 p.m. Sunday.

No other recent local quakes have been recorded.

Prompted by requests several years ago by Ohio regulatory officials, Lamont Doherty Observatory began monitoring seismic activity in Youngstown that ultimately was linked to a Class II saltwater injection well there.

Injection wells are used in the brine and oil field waste disposal process. Tens of thousands of gallons of salty brine water collected during the hydraulic fracturing pro-cess are injected thousands of feet underground for permanent disposal.

Some experts have determined the process can trigger seismic activity, particularly if the well is located on or near naturally occurring fault lines.

John Armbruster, a Lamont Doherty seismologist, confirmed the earthquake data Tuesday, but until hearing from a Tribune Chronicle reporter, had no knowledge of the relatively new injection wells now located nearby.

Armbruster said he could not immediately say whether the quake may be linked to new injection wells, but called it “suspicious.”

“That’s very interesting news,” Armbruster said of the location of the new injection wells. “I was about to say 16 kilometers from Youngstown seems too far for the Youngstown well to be blamed for this.”

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which regulates the gas and oil drilling and disposal industry in the state, is investigating whether there is a link.

“ODNR is reviewing both data from seismic monitoring equipment and operating Class II injection wells in the area surrounding the recent seismic event in Trumbull County. The review of this data will allow ODNR to determine if any correlation can be made and whether or not any regulatory action is necessary,” ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said in a prepared statement.

The injection wells in question are operated by American Water Management Service LLC, an arm of Howland-based Avalon Holdings.

A message left seeking comment from Stephen Kilper, American Waste Management vice president, was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The company’s two wells along state Route 169 received permits March 24 to begin accepting 1,000 to 2,000 barrels of waste per day.

As a result of the tremor, Weathersfield trustees are in the process of drafting a letter to send to ODNR and the U.S. Geological Survey urging a detailed investigation into the cause.

“It will basically tell them that we do have a concern and we would appreciate that they would look into it for the benefit of our residents,” Gerberry said.

He added that American Waste Services has routinely attended monthly trustees meetings and has worked hard to be a good neighbor in the township.

“I feel bad for them that it happened,” Gerberry said. “They have a large investment in it, too.”

Seismic monitors placed in the area of an unrelated Youngstown injection well operated by Northstar Disposal Well Services in late 2011 had detected about 100 earthquakes in the month of December 2011. The seismic activity eventually ceased once injection into that well was terminated.

Other than those quakes centered in Youngstown, Armbruster said he knows of no history of naturally occurring earthquakes in the Youngstown-Warren area.

“For those earthquakes that seem to be purely natural, you would have to go over to Cleveland or Akron. They have had earthquakes that you can’t blame on any well in the 1800s,” Armbruster said. “There’s a zone of them that cuts diagonal across the state, but Youngstown is well southeast of that zone. I think Niles is southeast of that zone also.”