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Quake fallout takes many paths

Published: Mon, January 2, 2012 @ 12:04 a.m.

Staff report


The New Year’s Eve earthquake quake rattled nerves across the Valley — but not much else.

A day after the magnitude-4.0 temblor ended 2011 with a big bang, surveys for damage uncovered only a few cracks in plaster, some nicked knickknacks and a damaged chimney in McDonald.

Police in Lawrence and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania reported few earthquake-related calls, but several departments in Columbiana, Trumbull and Mahoning counties reported multiple calls.

In the wake of the quake, however, questions have been raised as to whether the state moved fast enough to close the brine-injection well on Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown that is blamed for the 11 quakes — the first to have an epicenter in Mahoning County.

The state Friday shut down operations at the well, owned by Youngstown-based D&L Energy Inc. Then on Saturday, following the latest quake, the state banned four other wells within a 5-mile radius from commencing operations.

State Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, said the state did not act quickly enough to protect public safety.

He said he will renew his call today for hearings on a bill he co-sponsored for a moratorium on injection wells, and wants the hearings conducted in Youngstown.

“I want to move forward with the pursuit of alternative energy, but in a safe way. If we can’t find a safe way, then we need to call a halt to it,” Hagan said Sunday.

Hagan said he has sent letters to the speaker of the Ohio House, but has heard nothing back.

“So today I’m going to call again, and if they refuse to have hearings, he will ask Democrats and Republicans to come to Youngstown for the hearings. This legislation has been out there since May,” he said.

In the meantime, Hagan does not think Saturday’s Dec. 31 ban of four other wells within a 5-mile radius from commencing operations is adequate.

“I’m not happy with using a particular area when in fact there is danger all over. Jobs are important, but they have to be smart jobs. We can’t just rush to judgement without remembering safety. I’m certainly more convinced now than ever that the pattern of earthquakes and the well cries out for definitive answers,” Hagan said.

“Some people might accuse me of saying the sky is falling, but when the earth is moving, we have an obligations to ask questions and find out what is going on,” he said.

“All we have now is hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the gas industry to tell one side of the story. All we’re getting from government is lack of investigations,” Hagan said.

But Rob Nichols, spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, told The Vindicator that the state took the proper precautions and took appropriate action regarding the injection well.

“If you come in with guns blazing after one earthquake, that’s overreaching,” Nichols said. “That’s overreacting. “We may take some heat for being seen as overreactive [now]. That’s fine.”

The quake fallout also exposed a lack of awareness among the public about shale industry terminology such as “fracking” and “injection wells.”

Many Mahoning Valley residents have taken to Twitter, Facebook and have called local politicians calling for a statewide ban on fracking, mistakenly believing that the process has caused 11 Valley earthquakes this year.

Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet — in the case of the Utica Shale, about 6,000 feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

Fracking is an extraction process. Vertical fracking has been around for more than a half-century. Horizontal fracking is a relatively new technology that allows drillers access to untapped natural gas and oil reserves.

Injection wells are the opposite; the fluid left over from the fracking process is injected deep into the ground, sometimes as deep as 9,300 feet in Ohio.

The brine injections is a separate practice from fracking.

The nearest horizontal fracking operation is in Milton Township. There is no horizontal fracking going on in the immediate Youngstown area.

There was, however, one fully-functional injection well, on Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown.

That well was shut down by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Friday.

There are 176 operating injection wells and 194 permitted injection wells in Ohio and about 68,000 gas wells.

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