Fracking Waste Wells Cause OH Quakes

Wednesday, January 4, 2012 @ 01:01 PM gHale

A northeast Ohio well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas drilling caused a series of 11 minor quakes in the Youngstown area since last spring, said a seismologist investigating the quakes.

Seismic activity research is continuing on the now-shuttered injection well at Youngstown, but it might take a year for the wastewater-related rumblings in the earth to dissipate, said John Armbruster of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, NY.

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Brine wastewater dumped in wells comes from drilling operations, including the fracking process to extract gas from underground shale that has been a source of concern among environmental groups and some property owners. Injection wells are possible causes of quakes in Ashtabula in far northeast Ohio, and in Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma, Armbruster said.

Thousands of gallons of brine injected daily into the Youngstown well that opened in 2010 until its owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC, agreed Friday to stop injecting the waste into the earth as a precaution while authorities assessed any potential links to the quakes.

After the latest and largest quake Saturday at 4.0 magnitude, state officials felt injecting wastewater near a fault line had created enough pressure to cause seismic activity. They said four inactive wells within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well would remain closed. But they also stressed that injection wells are different from drilling wells that employ fracking.

Armbruster expects more quakes will occur despite the shutdown of the Youngstown well.

“The earthquakes will trickle on as a kind of a cascading process once you’ve caused them to occur,” he said. “This one year of pumping is a pulse that has been pushed into the ground, and it’s going to be spreading out for at least a year.”

The quakes began last March with the most recent on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve each occurring within 100 meters of the injection well. The Saturday quake in McDonald, outside of Youngstown, caused no serious injuries or property damage.

Youngstown Democrat Rep. Robert Hagan wants to hold off on fracking and well injection disposal to allow a review of safety issues.

“If it’s safe, I want to do it,” he said in a telephone interview. “If it’s not, I don’t want to be part and parcel to destruction of the environment and the fake promise of jobs.”

A spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, a supporter of the growing oil and natural gas industry in Ohio, said the shale industry shouldn’t suffer from a fracking byproduct.

“That would be the equivalent of shutting down the auto industry because a scrap tire dump caught fire somewhere,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.

He said 177 deep injection wells have operated without incident in Ohio for decades and the Youngstown well closed within 24 hours of a study detailing how close a Christmas Eve quake was to the well.

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