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By Ed Runyan
American Water Management Services of Howland already has installed seismic monitoring equipment at an deep injection well it plans to drill in the next couple months on state Route 169 (North Main Street) here.
The well will be 9,100 feet deep and near the boundary of a 7-mile moratorium area identified by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources after a New Year’s Eve Earthquake nearly two years ago involving a deep injection well.
But an ODNR spokesman says the new injection well, four-tenths of a mile northwest of North Road, will not drill into the Precambrian geological formation, where scientists believe injection pressure caused the earthquakes through slippage of existing geological faults.
Instead, the new well will drill through the Mount Simon formation and into the Knox formation just above the Precambrian, said Mark Bruce, ODNR spokesman.
The well will be among two American Water will drill on 5.2 acres of industrial land across the street from the Heaton-Chute neighborhood just northwest of the Niles city limits. It is about a quarter mile back from the road near BRT Extrusions.
The shallower well will go 4,700 feet deep into the Newburg formation. Injection wells are used to dispose of wastewater from gas and oil drilling.
After the 4.0-magnitude Dec. 31, 2011, earthquake and many smaller quakes earlier that year, the ODNR closed the Northstar 1 well near the epicenter of the earthquake off of Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown.
It also “indefinitely suspended” other injection wells within a 7-mile radius from Northstar 1, which was operated by Northstar Disposal LLC, which is owned by Ben Lupo of D&L Energy.
The ODNR is not allowing any injection wells to be drilled into the Precambrian formation and is allowing drilling into the Mount Simon/Knox formations only with seismic monitoring that starts before the well is even drilled, Bruce said.
Researchers at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University recently published a study that suggests as many as 109 tremors between January 2011 and February 2012 were directly linked to the Northstar 1 well.
Rather than focus on whether the Weathersfield well will be near the 7-mile radius of the Northstar 1 well, ODNR’s focus is on the geological formation to be used and monitoring of seismic activity, Bruce said.
This type of seismic monitoring became part of the ODNR’s rules in the summer of 2012 in response to the Youngstown earthquakes and is still being done at the closed Northstar 1 well and Muskingum, Tuscarawas and Washington counties, Bruce said.
ODNR Geologist Tom Tomastik, in an email, said the 7-mile moratorium area shouldn’t be considered extremely important because “there is no scientific basis to support it.”
The 7-mile area was “based upon speculation by Mike Hansen [of the Ohio Seismic Network] and the [ODNR] Division of Geological Survey, he said.
What is important is that the ODNR is “proactively doing seismic monitoring” for the proposed Weathersfield injection well and others around the state before such wells are drilled, during pressure testing and for six to eight months after the injection begins, Tomastik said.
“If no [seismic activity] is detected after this time period, then seismic monitoring will stop,” Tomastik said.
Through the seismic monitoring, the ODNR believes it will demonstrate that injection-well-induced earthquakes are “a rare occurrence,” Tomastik said.
Seismic monitoring will take place for a couple months before the Weathersfield well is drilled to establish a “baseline,” Bruce said.
After the well is drilled and pressure tested, if the monitoring doesn’t show any problems, an “order” will be issued, allowing commercial injections to begin, Bruce said.
“The company has agreed to perform the monitoring and provide us the information real time,” Bruce said. “ODNR’s trained staff will monitor seismic activity prior to and during injection testing. If injection operations are approved, monitoring will continue as long as necessary.”
He said commercial injection is at least “several months away.”
John Williams of Niles, a member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley and Frack Free Ohio, asked Trumbull County commissioners last week to look into what they could do to keep the Niles area safe from earthquakes that might result from the Weathersfield injection well.
Specifically, he asked how to put seismic monitoring in place for the Weathersfield well like what occurred when the earthquakes occurred around the Northstar 1 well.
He also expressed concern for the residential areas near the injection well.
Jeff C. Dick, chairman of Youngstown State University’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, said seismic monitoring occurred near the Northstar 1 well because of the seismic-monitoring station the university has operated for the past 12 years.
When the Youngstown earthquakes began, the ODNR asked Dick on Nov. 30, 2011, to measure their depth, and to model the fault causing them.
Columbia University in New York provided the devices that helped Dick and ODNR determine that the Northstar 1 well had been drilled too deeply into the Precambrian bedrock, causing the earthquakes.
As for Williams’ concerns about the residential areas near the Weathersfield well, Dick said he can understand the concern of people living near the proposed injection well.
“Although the likelihood of well integrity problems or the triggering of earthquakes is very small, the potential for surface spills and heavy truck traffic is cause for concern. Class 2 injection wells are like landfills; nobody wants one in their backyard.
“The fact of the matter is although earthquake activity has been conclusively linked to injection, it is still an extremely rare occurrence. In the past 40 years or more of class 2 injection, there have been about six known cases of associated earthquake activity.”
Dick said he agrees with the ODNR that the 7-mile distance selected for a moratorium on injection wells was “arbitrary” and meant to exclude several proposed injection wells identical to the Northstar 1 well.
Atty. Gil Blair, a Weathersfield Township trustee, said his main concerns for the wells are related to groundwater more than earthquakes because the Heaton-Chute area has had issues relating to well water in the past.