By Marc Kovac
Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti was sitting in his office in North Lima on New Year’s Eve when the earth shook.
“It was like a sonic boom,” he said. “I have lived in Ohio for 45 years, and that’s the first time this gentleman here ever felt an earthquake.”
On Monday, Traficanti was among the 40 or so state, county and local officials from Youngstown and surrounding areas who traveled to central Ohio to get answers about that and other seismic events that have shaken buildings and nerves since last March.
They wanted to know whether there was a definitive link between the tremors and an injection well in the vicinity, where waste fluids from oil and gas production were pumped deep underground before the state shut it down.
They also quizzed representatives of various divisions within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources about precautions the state is taking to minimize the possibility of future earthquakes and environmental calamity.
“We just want to deal with that and find out whether any more injection wells are put in our county,” Traficanti said.
The session lasted for more than two hours and included a tour of the Ohio Earthquake Information Center, the state-run facility that serves as the focal point for studying seismic activity.
Elected officials from the Youngstown area and Statehouse staffers were invited to participate by state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd. Other lawmakers who attended included state Reps. Ronald Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th; Sean O’Brien of Brookfield, D-65th; state Rep. Tom Letson of Warren, D-64th; and state Sen. Lou Gentile of Steubenville, D-30th. Reporters also were allowed to attend after initially being told the meeting would be closed.
The gathering included a presentation on the history of oil and gas drilling in Ohio, a review of permitting and other requirements for the disposal of waste fluids from wells, and a discussion of the New Year’s Eve earthquake centered in Youngstown and felt throughout Northeast Ohio.
Carlo Loparo, spokesman for the ODNR, said state officials will offer the same presentation at a public meeting at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the community Room of the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown.
In a related event, a Statehouse protest is set for this afternoon by opponents of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and injection wells.
Fracking is the process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.
State officials said they were reviewing the data on more than 10 earthquakes that have occurred in Youngstown since last March, the largest of which occurred on New Year’s Eve.
Local lawmakers’ questions ranged from whether there should be increased public information about new production or injection wells to how the state handled inspection of current wells to ensure they are safe.
“We get notice when a liquor permit’s renewed,” said Youngstown Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th. “The city has the right to comment as a legislative body. It really seems like we have more input when it comes to liquor permits than permitting wells in the area.”
Schiavoni added, “I don’t want to stop all drilling and exploring throughout the state. I don’t think that’s something that we should do. But when you have problems like this, you have to address them. We have to work proactively to ensure that this doesn’t happen anymore.”
State officials said it’s possible recent quakes and the injection well are linked, but they said a number of factors would have to be in place for that to be the case.
There would have to be a current underground fault, under stress and near failure already, said Larry Wickstrom, state geologist and head of the ODNR’s Division of Geological Survey.
ODNR officials are reviewing the data to make a definitive determination.
In a related topic, Schiavoni and Gentile issued a statement after the tour calling for increased state funding for earthquake monitoring. More than $1 million was cut from those activities as part of the state budget process, they said.