Ohio Links Fracking To Earthquakes
First time actual process blamed for small tremors
12 April 2014
By Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked
earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to
hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit
conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation's
A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the
Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection
of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or
fracking, in the Utica Shale may have increased pressure on a
small, unknown fault, said state Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers.
He called the link "probable."
While earlier studies had linked earthquakes in the same region to
deep-injection wells used for disposal of fracking wastewater,
this marks the first time tremors in the region have been tied
directly to fracking, Simmers said. The five seismic events in
March couldn't be easily felt by people.
The oil and gas drilling boom targets widely different rock
formations around the nation, so the Ohio findings may not have
much relevance to other areas other than perhaps influencing
public perception of fracking's safety. The types of quakes
connected to the industry are generally small and not easily felt,
but the idea of human activity causing the earth to shake often
doesn't sit well.
The state says the company that set off the Ohio quakes was
following rules and appeared to be using common practices. It just
got unlucky, Simmers said.
Gerry Baker, associate executive director of the Interstate Oil
and Gas Commission, said state regulators across the nation will
study the Ohio case for any implications for the drilling
industry. A consortium of states has already begun discussions.
Fracking involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and
chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to
flow. Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain
access to huge stores of natural gas but has raised widespread
concerns that it might lead to groundwater contamination - and,
A U.S. government-funded report released in 2012 found that two
worldwide instances of shaking can be attributed to actual
extraction of oil and gas, as opposed to wastewater disposal in
the ground - a magnitude-2.8 quake in Oklahoma and a magnitude-2.3
quake in England. Both were in 2011.
Later, the Canadian government tied quakes in British Columbia's
Horn River Basin between 2009 and 2011 to fracking. Those led to
stricter regulations, which news reports indicated had little
effect on the pace or volume of drilling.
But for the region encompassing Ohio, Pennsylvania and West
Virginia, where energy companies have drilled thousands of
unconventional gas wells in recent years, it's a first. The Utica
Shale lies beneath the better-known Marcellus Shale, which is more
easily accessible and is considered one of the world's richest gas
Glenda Besana-Ostman, a seismologist with the U.S. Department of
the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation, confirmed the finding is the
first in the area to suggest a connection between the quakes and
fracking. A deep-injection wastewater well in the same region of
Ohio was found to be the likely cause of a series of quakes in
Under Ohio's new permit conditions, all new drilling sites within
3 miles of a known fault or seismic activity of 2.0 magnitude or
higher will be conditioned on the installation of sensitive
seismic-monitoring equipment. Results will be directly available
to regulators, Simmers said, so the state isn't reliant on
drilling operators providing the data voluntarily.
If seismic activity of 1.0 magnitude or greater is felt, drilling
will be paused for evaluation. If a link is found, the operation
will be halted.
"While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities
are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take
these new steps to protect human health, safety and the
environment," said James Zehringer, director of Ohio's natural
Ohio has also imposed an indefinite drilling moratorium at the
site of the March quakes. The state is allowing oil and gas
extraction to continue at five existing wells at the site.
Such events linked to fracking are "extremely rare," said Shawn
Bennett, a spokesman for the industry group Energy In Depth, who
described the new rules as safeguards that will prevent similar
future quakes in Ohio.