By Karl Henkel
State environmental regulators say they are still trying to determine whether a brine-injection well conclusively triggered 11 Mahoning Valley earthquakes.
At a meeting Wednesday at the Covelli Centre, representatives of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said it is likely D&L Energy’s injection well on Ohio Works Drive caused the quakes, but they stopped short of definitely linking the two.
“The evidence is mounting that this series of events was caused by the well,” said Larry Wickstrom, state geologist.
The ODNR, however, is still awaiting more data from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Cooperative Seismographic Network, owners of four seis- mographs in the Youngs-town area.
That data will allow ODNR officials to take a better look at the depth, magnitude and location of the last quake, a magnitude 4.0 temblor on New Year’s Eve, which was felt from Indiana to Buffalo, N.Y.
But even if the data concludes that the D&L well sparked the seismic activity, Wickstrom said it will be difficult to prove “100 percent” that the well was responsible for the quakes.
“In most instances, it’s not going to be possible to determine that,” he told the crowd of about 500 attending Wednesday night’s meeting of Youngstown City Council’s Public Utilities Committee.
At a press conference afterward at the Youngstown Club, D&L said it will soon move forward with a geologic study of the area surrounding the well.
That study, to be conducted by a third party, could cost as much as $1 million.
Vince Bevacqua, D&L spokesman, said the company will not conduct the study with “any level of secrecy.”
During the meeting, Wickstrom also detailed new guidelines that the state will use if seismic activity occurs near another injection well.
If it is suspected that a well contributed to an earthquake, the ODNR would enforce a “zero-tolerance policy” along the lines of the action it took Dec. 31, when it banned injection wells within a 5-mile radius of the Youngstown well.
The ODNR is the governing authority of injection wells statewide.
The meeting, which included state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, and state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, also addressed residents’ questions about state and federal environmental regulations and whether D&L could be responsible for damages caused by any of the 11 quakes.
ODNR officials indicated that D&L could be on the hook for those damages, which included, among other things, a broken chimney and cracked concrete at two local residences.
Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council, a nonprofit research and public policy advocacy group, called for law changes pertaining to public notices about injection wells.
Current laws don’t require the state or injection-well companies to notify municipalities of planned wells. The law also states a public notice must appear in a newspaper of general circulation, but only for one day.
Janice Rovnak of Youngs-town agreed with some of the proposals but remained skeptical.
“I learned some things,” she said. “But nothing’s going to change.”