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Did brine well trigger 6 Mahoning Valley earthquakes?



Published: Sun, October 30, 2011 @ 12:08 a.m.

By Karl Henkel

khenkel@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The Mahoning Valley has experienced seven minor earthquakes since March — the only quakes ever recorded with epicenters in the Valley.

The sudden occurrences have experts now examining a brine- water injection well near Salt Springs Road and state Route 711. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is looking into the correlation between the 18-month-old well and the earthquakes.

Injection wells are a back-end process in the hydraulic-fracking industry. In the fracking process, water, chemicals and sand are blasted through pipes into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil. That liquid is returned to the surface as brine wastewater, which ultimately is flushed underground by injection wells.

Some wells, such as the one in Youngstown, go 9,000 feet below the earth’s surface.

Of the seven earthquakes, six had epicenters near the injection well on Youngstown’s West Side, just off the Salt Springs Road exit and Ohio Works Drive.

“There’s definitely a coincidence,” said Jeffrey Dick, geology department chairman at Youngstown State University.

“But whether or not there’s a link, nobody has enough data quite yet.”

ODNR has oversight over the process, and Dick said ODNR has contacted him about geological mapping in response to the quakes.

But Heidi Hetzel-Evans, an ODNR spokeswoman, said the agency stands by its regulations that permit the well operations.

“(ODNR has) not seen any evidence that shows a correlation between localized seismic activity and deep-injection well disposal.”

The well, completed 10 months before the Valley’s first 2011 quake, is operated by D&L Energy Inc., an oil-and-gas exploration company.

“There’s no data linking the well to earthquakes,” said Nick Paparodis, vice president of land operations for Youngstown-based D&L.

“We’ve complied with all of [ODNR’s] recommendations.”

D&L’s Youngstown site has had a daily injection average of 2,000 barrels, or 84,000 gallons, of wastewater. That’s 504,000 gallons each week, based on the site’s six-day operation schedule. Through the first six months of 2011, it has injected 7.6 million gallons.

Those averages could grow, because in May, ODNR approved an increase in the daily load level. Six of the seven earthquakes occurred after the increase.

THE INJECTION PROCESS

In the deep injection process, wastewater passes through the Marcellus Shale, Clinton Sandstone and Utica Shale formations.

Wastewater pumped into the well isn’t as heavily pressurized as it is during the fracking process.

Instead, only the pressure exerted by gravity is used to flush the water into rock formations and cavities as far as 9,000 feet down.

“The weight of 8,500 feet of fluid from the surface down to the injection zone is what is going to force the water into the formations,” Dick said.

During the injection process, the water continuously increases in volume and becomes a part of the ecosystem. It is at that point the water can cause strain on a previously undiscovered fault line — which could possibly cause earthquakes, some hypothesize.

MORE WELLS PLANNED

D&L also is establishing at least two other injection wells in the Mahoning Valley and has permits from ODNR.

One is off U.S. Route 422 in Campbell behind Mc-Cartney Auto Sales. Another is in Girard, also on 422, near the V&M Star plant.

Both wells have been drilled but won’t accept wastewater for four to six more months, Paparodis said.

Yet another could be on its way to Hubbard, according to a letter sent by D&L acquired by The Vindicator.

The locations were selected based on proximity to Pennsylvania. Wastewater from Pennsylvania fracking makes up a majority of the Ohio Works Drive well’s business.

EARTHQUAKE CONNECTION?

The correlation between earthquakes and deep-well injections is not new.

Dick said in only one instance — in Colorado in the 1980s — has there been enough evidence to link injection wells to earthquakes.

But earlier this year in Arkansas, the state Oil and Gas Commission banned some injection wells near a fault line after the area experienced 1,100-plus small earthquakes similar in magnitude to those felt in the Mahoning Valley.

Other wells voluntarily ceased production.

Geologic experts are concerned — and convinced — injection wells are causing those earthquakes during the last couple years. In February, the area had its largest rumble — a magnitude-4.7 earthquake.

The quakes initially subsided, but have since started to pick back up, said David Johnston, earthquake geologist at the Arkansas Geological Survey.

“Most of them have been pretty small in a 1.5 to 3 range, and most of them you couldn’t feel,” he said. “We’re still kind of evaluating the whole situation, but we’re confident that there is some sort of correlation.”

There are a few distinct differences between Arkansas and the Mahoning Valley, most notably the number of brine wells.

Arkansas had as many as four injection wells near the switchboard of the earthquake; the Valley has only one.

Central Arkansas has had two other “earthquake swarms” — one in the early 2000s and the first in the 1980s, according to geologic records, both of which predate the drilling activities of the Fayetteville Shale.

“That’s what makes it hard to say whether the recent swarm is natural or possibly related to the frackwater disposal wells,” Johnston said.

The Mahoning Valley didn’t have an earthquake centered in the area until this year.

A DEFINITIVE ANSWER

One way to detect a correlation between earthquakes and well injections is by pinpointing the depth of an earthquake.

Michael Hansen of the Ohio Seismic Network said that earthquakes are detected at network stations, like the one at Youngstown State University. But one network alone cannot detect a precise depth.

Hansen said at least three are needed to pinpoint a depth.

Temporary seismic stations are a possibility, but not for ODNR. Hansen said the U.S. Geological Service has such devices, which cost about $5,000 and take about six months for delivery.

The stations must also be in a quiet, stable area.

A three-station system could prove the ties between the wells and shakes, but it could also debunk the theory, since the seven Valley earthquakes appear to be at depths of 16,000 feet, Hansen said.

“We’ve tried to look at this in various ways, indirectly to determine a depth,” he said. “Most of these events are shallow, right around that depth.”


Comments

1VINDYAK(1799 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

Why should Ohio be the dumping site for brine brought in from other states?

I say, ship the brine to whatever state consumes the most gas/oil. California leads the country in automobiles, so give them their share of the brine. If they want the energy, they must also take the waste used to make it.

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2dand1313(20 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

another brine well is currently being drilled near the site of the existing one V&M Star. D&L is petitioning Campbel to drill more. all quakes have been within approximately 1 to 2 miles from each other, all near the brine well at V&M. this isn't rocket science to perform seismic testing. the difficulty is connecting it to the drilling. however, with no previous history of quakes in the area and the close vicinity of their "epicenters" at V&M, one can deduce testing is certainly in order.

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3glbtactivist(245 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

What idiots are those guys at ODNR? I know they are Republican appointives, but really. Six earthquakes in one area by the injection well. No earthquakes before the injection well. And they say they have no evidince? Greed always wins out when it comes to Republican decision making.

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4samIam(213 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

Wow are Peru and Turkey fracking without proper protection? Maybe we should donate taxpayer dollars to further investigate!

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5cyba(3 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

ODNR web site provides data on 7 disposal wells in Ohio that inject 240 million gallons per year for more than 30 years with no adverse effect. This earth quakes are coincidental.

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6Attis(872 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

The fracking power elite has obviously already concluded that there is no correlation. Another set of bureaucratic lies by political and corporate prostitutes who put profit before people. Another earthquake is coming and it will not be subterranean.

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7Superstar7(122 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

Campbell?
Possibly Struthers?
Girard?
If earthquakes occur, it will improve those areas.
DRILL MORE WELLS on the Southside & Eastside, on every block. Drill hundreds.

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8Bigben(1996 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

"Of the seven earthquakes, six had epicenters near the injection well on Youngstown’s West Side...." --
Dah gee I wonder what it could be.

As to why here-the same reason we have the trash train rolling through. Other states and big business think this area is full of stupid naive people.

They think they can mention a few cheap jobs and the dumb dumbs will eat it up.They do it because we put up with it.

Soon they will tell you how good it is for the area while your house is falling apart and your water is polluted.When folks get sick they will tell you it is something else.

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9howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

A great article regarding the lack of safety in drilling on the shale formations using the fracking technique.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/art...
From the November 2011 issue of Scientific American!

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10howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

The waste water from just one well amounts to millions of gallons and there are numerous toxic substances in it including natural radioactive elements from the deep rock formations.

Read this article for more information:
http://www.marcellus-shale.us/drillin...

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11howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

Here is an economic negative for you all to think about.

This article in the New York Times sites banking industry leaders as considering refusing to lend (refinancing or selling becomes nearly impossible) on properties with drilling leases on them!
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/20/us/...

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12howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

Here is a great news story by the BBC
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPZqXG...

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13howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

For those who think that drilling will create thousands of jobs for Ohio here are the facts on wellsite jobs.
Each well will have about 20 highly skilled drilling workers, almost all of them will move from well to well and most will be from out of state.
The drilling company will hire a trucking company to deliver supplies (which may or may not be a local company) about 20 drivers. They will also hire a trucking company usually local to haul away the toxic and often radioactive waste, they will pat them very well so that they don't ask questions and will leave it up to the trucking company to dispose of the wastewater (about 25 jobs), The trucking companies in order to maximize profits will not tell their drivers the dangers of the wastewater and may even encourage their drivers to dump it whereever they can get away with it without getting caught (rivers and stream in rural areas. see this video
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToNjVL...
All of these jobs will be gone in 12 to 18 months and for most of that time only 2/3 are on the job at any one time, there is a short 30-45 day window when all of these jobs will be going on together.
Now the industry will tell you that they are going to be drilling 1000's of wells hoping that you will take this measly assortment of 30-60 local jobs and multiply it by thousands of wells so that you see visions of sugarplums dancing in your head, but the reality is that the drilling is done assembly line fashion, and the crews move from well to well and the jobs go with them. It is true that there is more than one company out there drilling the wells (about 50 in Pennsylvania right now and they are at the height of their drilling boom) so we can take the 75-100 jobs per drilling site and multiply it by 50 for a total of 3500 to 5000 jobs spread across the entire state of Ohio and spread out over 5 to 15 years! Not so impressive now, is it!

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14CongressWatcher(156 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

Unfortunately Bigben you appear to be correct thus far. If the vision our elected officials have for this valley is to be an earthquake ridden toxic waste dump, then it is past time to cut our losses, sell our homes, and get out of dodge.

On the other hand, if they are worth there weight in tax dollars paid to them, they will hold this industry accountable. At the very least, hold the state government responsible for ensuring the safety of our homes and families.

Pop Quiz: Does anyone believe we will be able to purchase earthquake insurance for our homes from now on or not? So what happens if now we suddenly need to live with the threat of earthquakes destroying our property? Etc, Etc, Etc...

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15DwightK(1247 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

To our teabagger friends, situations like this are why we have government regulations.

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16howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

Condensate tanks can be located as close as 100 ft from a house, school or church in Ohio.

http://www.cleveland.com/broadview-he...

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17howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

http://www.texassharon.com/2011/11/01... Sad story out of PA and the things that the gas drilling industry gets away with. Great Pictures.

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18aqmorales(1 comment)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

This Just in.... fracking - leading cause of births!

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19howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

"The only company in Britain using hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from shale rock said Wednesday that the controversial technique probably did trigger earth tremors in April and May."

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wire...

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20howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 2 years, 9 months ago

Here is an excellent article about the possible ways that the actions of mankind can affect earthquakes.
http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/200...

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