By Sean Barron
Many Mahoning Valley residents’ nerves have been rattled during the recent series of earthquakes close to a brine-injection well here, but more data is needed to establish a direct link between seismic and drilling activity, a Youngstown State University geology professor contends.
Dr. Jeffrey Dick, chairman of YSU’s geology department, said in a lecture Tuesday night that activity at the well on Ohio Works Drive, which began in December 2010, likely has triggered the 11 earthquakes that started last March. But he stopped short of saying it is the direct cause.
An estimated 130 people attended Dick’s lecture in the D.D. and Velma Davis Education and Visitors Center at Mill Creek MetroParks’ Fellows Riverside Gardens. Sponsoring the one-hour gathering was the West Side Citizens Coalition.
Dick explained that injection can allow fluids to migrate into and lubricate faults, triggering earthquakes that are generally caused by stresses on rock formations deep under the surface.
The well in question is operated by Northstar Disposal Services LLC, an affiliate of D&L Energy Group, and injects brine, a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, more than 9,300 feet into the ground.
Injection wells dispose of fluid left from fracking by injecting it deep underground.
Even though a direct relationship between the well and the series of earthquakes is not certain, the timing and proximity of the temblors to the well have caused many people to see a direct correlation between the two, Dick noted.
Nevertheless, “I was very pleased when the ODNR [Ohio Department of Natural Resources] shut the well down,” he added.
Dick said the first few quakes caused little concern, but many residents started noticing a pattern by August. A 4.0-magnitude quake occurred Dec. 31, one day after D&L agreed to a request to stop operations at the well indefinitely.
The professor explained that seismographs were set up last month, and YSU installed one Tuesday to better monitor seismic activity.
During Tuesday’s question-and-answer period, one woman said the most recent and strongest temblor made it feel as if her home had exploded. She also expressed concern about what chemicals are used in fracking.
Brine is toxic and often contains a high concentration of metals, Dick said in response to a man who wondered why the material is injected so deep into the earth.