By Ed Runyan
In addition to the magnitude 2.1 earthquake that hit the American Water Management Services injection wells Aug. 30, one of magnitude 1.7 hit nearby July 28, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources says.
That event occurred about two weeks after the company used its authorized increase from ODNR to raise the injection pressure from 1,025 pounds-per-square-inch to 1,200 psi on one of its two wells.
The 1.7 quake had an epicenter about 500 feet from the injection wells, ODNR says. The company reduced its injection pressure back to 1,025 psi around the beginning of August.
Bethany McCorkle, ODNR spokesperson, said she doesn’t know whether the July 28 earthquake is the reason American Water Management Services took the pressure back down.
Seismometers maintained by AWMS and five others operated by ODNR all recorded the July 28 earthquake. The seismometers have not picked up any other earthquakes in 2014, only “blip” movements from quarrying or trucks hitting potholes, McCorkle said. Scientists can tell the difference fairly easily because of the short burst of movement from a “blip” compared with the longer length of an earthquake.
ODNR has not determined whether either Weathersfield earthquake is directly tied to the injection well, but it continues to receive and evaluate data, such as information from additional seismometers, to help with that determination, she said.
The two Weathersfield injection wells off state Route 169 just north of Niles were shut down Sept. 3 after the magnitude 2.1 quake and remain closed.
The injection well that delivers brine into the Newburg formation 4,700 feet underground is the one that increased its injection pressure. The company also has a well that forces brine into the Mount Simon and Knox formations 9,100 feet below the earth’s surface. Its allowable injection pressure is 1,680 psi.
McCorkle said ODNR wants to know whether the two quakes were “induced” by the Weathersfield wells, but the repeated seismic activity in the Mahoning Valley also is raising questions about why it is happening here.
The seismic activity tied to Youngstown’s Northstar 1 injection well in 2011, and,tied to the Hillcorp Energy Co. hydraulic fracturing operation at the Carbon Limestone Landfill in Poland Township earlier this year, are the only two examples of seismic activity tied to brine injection or hydraulic fracturing in all of Ohio during that time, McCorkle said.
The Poland Township and Youngstown facilities remain closed.
McCorkle called the magnitude 1.7 quake a “non-felt event,” much like the 1magitude 2.quake. In fact, most earthquakes up to about 2.5 or 3.0 magnitude are not felt, she said.
But when an earthquake of 1.7 or 2.1 is detected by seismic monitors, it is cause for concern because of the potential that it could lead to ones of greater intensity, she said.
Ron Klingle, CEO of Avalon Holdings of Howland, parent company of AWMS, has said the company invested about $7 million to establish the injection facility. He said such facilities are important to keeping gas and oil drilling in the Mahoning Valley viable.
Klingle said this week he had no comment on the ongoing ODNR investigaton.
John Williams, a member of Frackfree Mahoning Valley, which has organized numerous events warning of the purported dangers of brine injection and hydraulic fracturing, wrote an email Aug. 13 to news media and public officials after AWMS received permission to increase its injection pressure.
“Remember, increasing the pressure above the permitted psi is what caused the 4.0 earthquake at the Youngstown injection well,” Williams said in the email.
Contained in the email was a copy of ODNR’s July 11 approval for AWMS to increase injection pressure on the shallower of the two wells. It was signed by Richard J. Simmers, chief of the division of oil- and gas-resources management.
The approval largely was based on results of testing of the specific gravity of the injection fluid being injected into the wells.
Simmers “finds that the specific gravity analysis of the fluid to be injected into the AWMS No. 1 saltwater injection well is accurate as applied to the facts presented in the application,” the approval letter says.