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Use safeguards to avert quakes, experts testify at YSU drilling hearing

Published: Wed, January 18, 2012 @ 12:09 a.m.


Jeffrey Dick


Rep. Robert F. Hagan, D-Youngstown. (AP Photo/Larry Phillips)

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Expert testimony at a joint subcommittee meeting of the state House and Senate on Tuesday indicated certain precautions could prevent injection-well- induced earthquakes.

Some testimony — including that of Jeffrey Dick, geology department chairman at Youngstown State University, the site of the hearing — backed up previous concerns by environmental regulators and industry experts that D&L Energy Inc. drilled a brine-injection well too deep.

Other recommendations included the use of expensive and high-tech seismic tests.

The hearing stemmed from an injection well in Youngstown suspected of causing 11 earthquakes with epicenters in the Mahoning Valley last year. Injection wells are the prime disposal method for brine, a salty by-product of natural-gas and oil drilling.

Dick recommended that injection wells not be drilled to the depth of the nearly impermeable Precambrian formation, or bedrock. He testified that in private talks with ODNR, he detailed the potential problems with drilling to great depths.

Faults and fractures can occur along the bedrock, Dick said. He said that if brine is injected into the fractures, it can lead to faults.

If brine, acting as a lubricant, follows a fault, seismic activity can occur, he added.

Dick said during the initial drilling of injection wells “there’s no question when you hit” the Precambrian formation — solid rock.

Part of the issue, however, is determining the location of underground faults.

Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources last week decided to limit injection wells to a maximum depth of 8,000 feet to avoid faults. That figure later was expanded to the depths of the Precambrian or basement rocks.

The bedrock in Mahoning County is a few thousand feet shallower than the bedrock in Southeast Ohio.

“If all of the rock layers and basement rocks were perfectly horizontal, you could set a depth limit,” Dick said. “You can’t set a depth limit.”

An ODNR spokesman said at the conclusion of a report due out early February, the environmental regulator will determine the fates of 12 permitted wells with the Precambrian as an injection formation.

Robert Chase, petroleum engineering professor at Marietta College, said formations can be detected using high-tech seismic tests, but that those tests often are conducted by the drilling industry and therefore proprietary.

“I think [that information] needs to be shared and utilized as much as possible,” Chase said.

Chase said data on underground formations “is readily available,” including known faults in Northeast and Southeast Ohio. Seismic testing, however, is not required prior to the drilling of an injection well. Chase said if injection-well owners inject fluid near a fault line, they are doing so at their own risk.

“They have to be prepared to suffer what they suffered here,” he said, referencing the late December decisions by Kasich and ODNR to shutter first the Youngstown D&L well and then five other nearly complete wells in a 7-mile radius. “They could be shut down if something like this happens.”

The hearing, attended by members of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources subcommittee, didn’t impress all legislators, including state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th. Even before the Dec. 31 magnitude-4.0 earthquake, he repeatedly had called for hearings on fracking and injection wells.

“The events that unfolded at [Youngstown State University] this morning lacked any substantive analysis or investigation into injection wells and recent earthquakes in Youngstown,” Hagan said in a statement.

“Instead of thoughtful answers to probing questions, industry representatives were all too eager in seeking greater latitude for their industry to do what they think is right.”


1lumper(284 comments)posted 2 years, 11 months ago

in the cleveland plain dealer monday jan. 16th is an excellent article explaining the injection process and also why the state of ohio has become a waste receiver for other states. there's not much the governor can do. the legislature has to act. the legislature would have to put the interest of ohioans ahead of their own graft and corruption. don't foresee that happening.

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2juanita1944(34 comments)posted 2 years, 11 months ago

coal mines people......can't you listen......briar hill....parkwood.....girard.....were old coal and quarry mines...........listen to me please you are signing our death warrents......investigate please or give us free quake insurance so if we die in one of your damn quakes over coal mines.......our kids can bury us ......god forgive these people their pockets and big bank accounts are more important then our lives...........sadly lowering my head in prayer.......please don't let any of my kids or other peoples kids be around when the quakes trash our houses ... please god cause these men are not listening to me

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3Attis(922 comments)posted 2 years, 11 months ago

Now I better understand why this show was held before an agriculture committee. Nothing but corporate manure.

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4green(34 comments)posted 2 years, 11 months ago

Several questions: How many in attendance were actual Beaver Twp. residents and how many were activists "supported by Occupy Youngstown" ? Did those who gave a standing ovation receive any money for the mineral rights on their land? Why did Bob "Lemon Grove anti-union jobs" Hagan support the activists at this meeting but called his meeting with the other state representatives as "disappointing"? I'll answer that one, because the meeting with his peers had sensible itelligent people rationalizing what had to be done instead of Bobby's approach - shoot and ask questions later. You don't get it Hagan, you are a representative, you are to represent everyone whether you like it or not, but you are so far one sided it is sickening. You are not our reprentative you are an activist for your own cause, not for that of the Valley. Hopefully, voters will look back and see what you're really like and vote you out of office.

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