By Tom McParland
Fracking opponents last month criticized the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for not providing more information from an investigation that found a probable connection between fracking and a rash of earthquakes in Poland Township.
On April 11, the state agency responsible for regulating Ohio’s oil and gas industry released a statement that identified the link and announced new permit conditions for companies applying to drill wells near known faults.
“To my disappointment, that is all they are going to release,” Ray Beiersdorfer, a geology professor at Youngs-town State University, said at a press conference organized by Frackfree Mahoning Valley outside of Youngstown City Hall.
“I think that it is irresponsible for them to not be more forthcoming with the actual data,” he said.
ODNR said fluid from a Hilcorp Energy Co. well increased underground pressure, aggravating a previously undetected “microfault” in the area.
But the agency does not plan to publicly release the data it collected during its investigation of the March quakes, and no final report will follow.
At issue, Beiersdorfer said, is where the fault was located in relation to the well, drilled about 8,100 feet below the surface.
The exact depth is important because it can help determine if the fracking fluid could have leaked into the Precambrian basement, a nearly impermeable rock formation about 9,600 feet underground, he said.
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.
“That opens [another] set of problems. That means that there are potential earthquake faults in the area where they’re trying to frack to get the shale gas out,” Beiersdorfer said, urging ODNR to publish its data.
Mark Bruce, ODNR spokesman, said the agency’s statement reflected all the agency’s findings.
After taking criticism for taking months to release a report on the 2012 Youngstown earthquakes linked to an injection well, the agency opted to share its findings quickly.
“In the interest of transparency and timeliness, we wanted to make our findings public as soon as we [could],” Bruce said.
All the data ODNR reviewed as part of its investigation is available by request to ensure that people receive accurate data, in its entirety, he said.
Beiersdorfer said he filed a records request with ODNR and has yet to hear back.
He also took issue with ODNR’s use of the word “microfault” in describing the fault that caused the tremors, saying it was “intentionally misleading” to use the term, which refers to a microscopic crack in rock.
Bruce acknowledged that “microfault” is not a technical term, but he argued the statement wasn’t intended to be a technical document.
The word instead refers to its size compared with other faults, he said.
After the quakes, ODNR announced new permitting conditions. Now, companies applying to drill fracking wells within three miles of known faults or in the vicinity of seismic events greater than a 2.0 magnitude must install “sensitive” seismic monitors.
If the monitors 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.
Beiersdorfer said the policy did not go far enough in preventing future earthquakes, but industry advocates and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber came to ODNR’s defense, saying the agency took a cautious and responsible approach in crafting the new conditions.