PA Investigating Quakes Near Fracking Site

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 @ 02:05 PM gHale

Pennsylvania officials are investigating the cause of a small earthquake in Lawrence County last Monday not far from the site of a natural gas well where fracking operations were ongoing.

Hilcorp Energy Co., doing business as North Beaver NC Development, was hydraulically fracturing two wells on a four-well pad in Mahoning Township when seismic monitors detected a magnitude 1.9 earthquake, at 12:05 a.m. on Monday, according to U.S. Geological Survey records.

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That tremor ended up followed by another magnitude 1.9 earthquake at 10 p.m. Monday in the same township about a mile away, according to the USGS.

At noon Monday, “Hilcorp stopped fracking operations and demobilized the same day from that location,” said Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Melanie Williams.

A Hilcorp spokesman did not return a request for comment.

Fracking has been suspected of directly triggering earthquakes, in cases in England, British Columbia, Oklahoma and Ohio, but researchers have never tied the gas extraction process to quakes in Pennsylvania.

A recent study by a Penn State University graduate student cataloged 1,355 small seismic events in the state between 2013 and 2014, and found no correlation to underground disposal wells or hydraulic fracturing at oil and gas wells.

Pennsylvania is currently expanding its seismic network to include 42 monitoring stations so seismic events anywhere in the state should be detectable as small as magnitude 2.0, which is generally below what humans can feel. The expansion was the result of state officials’ desire to better understand seismic risks potentially associated with oil and gas activity.

Ohio regulators determined that a series of small earthquakes in Mahoning County in 2014 showed “a probable connection” to fracking at a Utica Shale well operated by Hilcorp. Five quakes ranged in magnitude from 2.1 to 3.0, according to USGS records, and the closest was about a mile west of the Pennsylvania border.

In response, Ohio established a requirement that companies install seismic monitors at horizontal production wells within 3 miles of a known fault or site of a past earthquake. If on-site monitors pick up a seismic event larger than magnitude 1.0, well site activities would be put on hold for an investigation.

Pennsylvania regulators have considered creating rules for wells in “seismic hazard areas,” but have not released any specific proposals.

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