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ODNR links fracking to Poland earthquakes

Published: Sat, April 12, 2014 @ 12:09 a.m.

By Tom McParland



For the first time, a team of state regulators and geologists on Friday identified hydraulic fracturing as a “probable” trigger for earthquakes, confirming suspicions that a series of tremors in Poland Township were the result of fracking operations.

“ODNR geologists believe the sand and water injected into the well during the hydraulic fracturing process may have increased pressure on an unknown microfault in the area,” the agency responsible for regulating the state’s oil and gas industry said in a statement.

On March 23, The Vindicator reported that geologists outside of an Ohio Department of Natural Resources investigation were considering the theory that fluid from a fracking well at the Carbon Limestone Landfill could have seeped into an unknown fault extending upward from the Precambrian basement, causing the ground to shake March 10.

ODNR’s investigation turned up no link to the Precambrian formation, but it did indicate that fracking aggravated a small, previously undetected fault in the overlying Paleozoic rock.

Rick Simmers, chief of ODNR’s oil and gas division, said it wasn’t clear whether the fluid leaked into the fault or whether it created pressure that caused the fault to move.

The precise depth of the March 10 quake also remains unknown, but ODNR’s review of seismic data, Hilcorp records and other information all pointed to fracking as the most likely cause, he said.

“The data started to focus in on the well itself, but in a way that gave us more and more evidence that the events were related to the hydraulic fracturing,” Simmers said in an interview.

Though there is a moratorium on drilling at the site, Hilcorp Energy Co. will be allowed to recover oil and gas from five previously drilled wells, as long as seismic monitoring occurs.

Hilcorp said in a statement that it “is currently reviewing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ latest announcement regarding drilling permit conditions. While we take the time necessary for understanding how these conditions impact Ohio operations, we remain fully committed to public safety and acting in a manner consistent with being a good corporate citizen in the communities where we operate.”

ODNR’s findings prompted the agency to take the unprecedented step of changing its permit conditions to require drillers in certain areas to monitor seismic activity.

The requirements — the first of their kind — will require companies seeking horizontal drilling permits within three miles of known faults or in the vicinity of seismic events greater than a 2.0 magnitude to install “sensitive” seismic monitors.

If the latter detect movement of a magnitude of more than 1.0, drilling and related activities would have to stop while the quakes are investigated. Drilling would be suspended if fracturing is determined to be the cause.

Officials said additional monitoring during the drilling process would provide a range of new data points, giving regulators a more comprehensive picture of existing faults in underlying rock formations.

“Not only will this reasonable course of action help to ensure public health and safety, but it will also help us to expand our underground maps and provide more information about all types of seismicity in Ohio,” ODNR Director James Zehringer said in a statement.

Geologists saw the new conditions as “reasonable,” but expressed some concern that they do not go far enough to map the geology of an area that has seen its share of earthquakes in recent years.

As many as 109 earthquakes were linked to a Youngstown injection well that shot fracking wastewater into the Precambrian basement.

Investigations by ODNR and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory into those events also found previously unknown faults in Mahoning County.

Mike Brudzinski, a professor of seismology at Miami University in Oxford, said the monitoring requirement would be effective in monitoring seismic pressure at a site, but it would provide only a “local” snapshot of geological conditions.

“ODNR needs to think about, ‘Is there a way we can do more characterization of the overall fault network?’” he said.

In an email exchange with The Vindicator, Thomas Serenko, the state’s chief geologist, indicated that public seismic mapping data is lacking in Mahoning County because the companies that perform the expensive and detailed surveys hold the information as proprietary.

Ohio law does not authorize ODNR to require that companies turn that data over to state regulators, ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said.

Additionally, requiring the tests could have a cooling effect on the state’s drilling industry, Brudzinski said, but regulators should work with companies to defray the cost and share the data.

Ray Beiersdorfer, a geology professor at Youngstown State University, said the burden should be on companies to turn over information to ODNR when they encounter a potential problem. “I suggest that the drilling companies have to prove there are no faults in the area by making their seismic reflection data available to ODNR,” he said.

But Bruce said seismic reflection data don’t always reveal small dangers such as the “microfault” encountered at the Hilcorp wells.

“[Hilcorp] had seismic reflection data,” he said, “but they didn’t see this fault.”

Brudzinski took issue with ODNR’s use of the term “microfault,” saying the agency took “a lot of geological leeway” in its word selection. “It’s not a term that has a lot of specific meaning,” he said.

According to Simmers, the term referred to the length of the roughly east-to-west oriented fault, but Beiersdorfer agreed that the word is rarely used and can have various connotations.

Beiersdorfer did, however, credit ODNR with responding “in a timely fashion to these earthquakes,” drawing a contrast to the agency’s drawn-out review of the injection-well quakes.

According to agency spokesmen, ODNR’s investigation is now finished, and all of its data and findings are publicly available upon request.

Meanwhile, industry representatives emphasized the need for “perspective” when responding to ODNR’s findings.

Thomas E. Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, characterized the Poland quakes as a “rare and isolated event that should not cast doubt about the safety of hydraulic fracturing.”

“Though we understand the public’s concern, we encourage an abundance of caution and perspective when evaluating this incident. Ohio has benefited greatly from a robust oil and gas industry, and this should not curtail development,” he said in a statement.

According to ODNR, there have been more than 800 wells drilled in the Utica and Marcellus shale plays, which have included as many as 16,000 fracking stages.


1questionreality(722 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Remember, in the good 'ol US, monster screw-ups engineered by 'good corporate citizens' are not to broached with any type of negativity until the damage done is absolutely unforgivable, incomprehensible, and beyond repair.

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2cambridge(3979 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

I'm for energy from solar, wind, geothermal and landfill gas because all are clean, green and renewable.

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3thirtyninedollars(598 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Imagine that, they did some science and science won over money.
Uticashale, I hope your house is over the epicenter of the next one. Let your house insurance deal with it. You sound like you could take it all in stride.

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4oh13voter(1205 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Wind, solar, geothermal, and landfill gas cannot meet the energy needs of our country. Nor will any combination of them in the foreseeable future. Typical liberal fantasy solution.
I have to laugh at the uproar over the seismic activity. Over 800 wells drilled in Ohio and there has been one minor seismic event.
The Sky Is Falling, The Sky Is Falling !

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576Ytown(1327 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

oh13voter: come up with a safer way to extract the gas and we'll all live happily ever after.

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6oh13voter(1205 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

It isn't unsafe and you and your merry band of misinformants have never provide any evidence to support your belief that it is.
You are the Chicken Littles of our time.
The Sky Is Falling, The Sky Is Falling.
Shale Development Is Dangerous,
Shale Development Is Dangerous.

Just not true; the sky is not falling and shale development is safe.

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776Ytown(1327 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

13 has been sniffing fracking fluid tonight.

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8thirtyninedollars(598 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

It isn't unsafe huh? You have been sipping the fracking kool-aid haven't you?
Can I pour a gallon of that fracking soup chemical into your water tank?
You wouldn't mind testing it personally right? Just to prove to all of us chicken littles it's perfectly safe?

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9oh13voter(1205 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

thirty (I suppose that is your IQ),

I'll take the time to explain this and I will type slowly so that you can follow.
Frac fluid is as safe as many substances as long as it is used for it's intended purpose, consumption as a beverage is not one of them.

Using your logic we should not use any of the following because if ingested it would be harmful:

Gasoline, laundry detergent, fertilizers, bug sprays, floor poloih, furniture polish, window cleaner, etc. etc. All of those are found in most homes. Now go back to playing with your colored blocks.

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10CongressWatcher(225 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

Great article!

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11JoeFromHubbard(1743 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

What's shaking?
Are those geo temblors or fracophobics?

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12oh13voter(1205 comments)posted 2 years, 1 month ago

The anti shale folks who are promoting the charter amendment cite ODNR incompetence as a reason for it's passage.

These new regs are more proof that we have a trusty worthy agency in the ODNR.

The effort to promote the charter amendment is nothing more than fear mongering. There is no basis to the negative claims and campaign.

I have always felt that in order to convince people of the validity of your position a positive message is the best course of action. Show me the benefits of voting for something. We don't have that with the charter amendment. Instead all we get is fear mongering.

VOTE NO MAY 6TH on the charter amendment.

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