State Rep. Bob Hagan, behind a proposal to indefinitely ban injection wells in Ohio, wanted to know from engineering and geology experts if there is a link between recent seismic activity here and in Marietta to wells that accept hydraulic fracturing wastewater.
But they couldn't provide one.
YSU geology professor talks about seismic activity, undeground well link.
And Dr. Robert Chase, petroleum engineering professor at Marietta College, isn't ready to say there should be a moratorium on injection wells ''until I see some definite proof that is the cause of the earthquakes.''
Neither Chase nor Dr. Jeffrey Dick, geology professor at Youngstown State University, could definitively connect quakes in southern Ohio or the ones that rattled the Mahoning Valley could be connected to the underground wells.
''Speculation that these earthquakes were triggered by Class II injection wells is pure speculation with very little information to back it up,'' said Dick of the earthquakes that many believe were caused by a well in Youngstown.
Ohio lawmakers hear testimony from Tom Stewart, left, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, during a hearing about seismic activity and injection wells inside the Kilcawley Center on the campus of Youngstown State University. Photo by Ron Selak
Since there's uncertainty, Hagan says it's best to err on the side of caution.
''Should we not slow the process down and find out why,'' Hagan, D-Youngstown, said.
Chase and Dick testified Tuesday on injection wells and seismic activity before the bi-partisan panel of state lawmakers inside the Kilcawley Center on the YSU campus. In addition to the two scientific experts, two gas and oil industry advocates provided testimony.
Limits set on drilling depth
By DAN POMPILI
The governor's office and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is limiting the depth brine disposal injection wells can be drilled in the state.
Wells should not be drilled into the precambrian rock layer without first meeting more stringent criteria, according to their decision.
In the Youngstown area, the precambrian layer sits about 8,000 feet below the surface.
The well operated by North Star Disposal on Ohio Works Drive is drilled more than 9,100 deep into rock where a fault line is located, reports state. The depths of Dec. 24 and New Year's Eve day quakes near the well were at 11,647 feet and 12,073 feet.
"We had already determined we would do a study when we suspended activity in Youngstown, and some things we're looking at would be depth and criteria before drilling into precambrian rock," Hetzel-Evans said.
In other parts of the state, precambrian rock may be a few thousand feet deeper and maximum depth limits would be set accordingly, ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans said.
ODNR also commissioned a report that will be based largely on the findings of the Columbia University Lamont-Doherty geologic observatory, which has been monitoring seismic activity in Youngstown since a recent rash of earthquakes struck the area in 2011.
Following the New Year's Eve earthquake, Kasich issued a temporary ban on any injections well activity within a five-mile radius of the well nearest that earthquake. That well had also been suspended the day prior to the earthquake, at ODNR's request, so that further study could be conducted on seismic activity at the site.
The new study commissioned by ODNR, however, places all injection well drilling in the state on hold.
Hetzel- Evans said ODNR currently has 11 to 12 applications in the review process and all of them are suspended pending the results of the study.
"We hope our report will be done within the next few weeks and then we'll move forward with decision making," she said. Hetzel-Evans gave a projected completion date of mid-February.
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Kasich, said the ban will be lifted "when we're comfortable that public health and safety is being protected."
Dick also testified that although the injection well-earthquake link hasn't been established, it is possible.
He said fluid injected into the well could migrate along fractures to the fault, and the pressure of the fluid ''may act to reduce resisting forces along the fault line and as a result, trigger the recent earthquakes,'' Dick said.
The well under scrutiny, operated by North Star Disposal on Ohio Works Drive, is drilled more than 9,100 deep into rock where the fault line is located. The depths of the Dec. 24 and New Year's Eve day quake have been determined at 11,647 feet and 12,073 feet.
Eleven earthquakes have hit the valley since March 17, the largest, a 4.0 magnitude on Dec. 31. The well came online in December. Hagan also noted that the four quakes in the Marietta area happened after injection wells there became operative.
State Rep. Sean O'Brien asked if seismic testing should be done before injection wells are sited, to ''check before we drill and do the seismic testing so we know what's there,'' said O'Brien, D-Brookfield.
No state requires seismic testing before locating these type injection wells, said David Hill, president and consulting geologist of David R. Hill Inc.
O'Brien also asked if a ban on deep injection well operations within a five-mile circle of a closed well in Youngstown that's suspected of causing earthquakes should be enlarged. That's because, he said, there has been application for two wells in Trumbull County.
He also asked how long the fault line extends.
''That North Star 10 is very close, that's why I'm very concerned,'' he said.
Chase testified that with all the information out there on underground formations, information he believes should be shared, ''utilized as much as possible,'' well operators should proceed with caution and be prepared to shut down if they put fluid underground near fault lines.
Afterward, Hagan called the hearing slanted, saying the hearing did not provide ''any substantive analysis or investigation into injection wells and recent earthquakes in Youngstown.'' He said the hearing amounted to little more than a continuation of the gas and oil industry's public relations campaign.