Hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) has been linked to several earthquakes in the Youngstown, Ohio area starting in March, 2011. The earthquakes ranged in magnitude from 2.1 to 4.0, with a 4.0 quake occurring on New Year’s Eve that has prompted Ohio Governor John Kasich to order a moratorium on six of the Class II deep injection wells in and around the Youngstown area.
Hydraulic fracturing is a highly controversial process in which large amounts of a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped underground to release natural gases from beneath the earth’s surface. Municipal water treatment plants are not able to remove some of the contaminants found in the chemically laced water and therefore, the fluid is sometimes re-injected into the ground. Although geologists believe that induced seismic activity is rare, it can occur under certain circumstances. After thorough investigation of the geological formations and well activity in the Youngstown area, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources believe that the injection of high-pressure fluid into a well near an underground fault led to the occurrence of the seismic events.
Evidence linking fracking to the seismic activities in the Youngstown area include the fact that the earthquakes occurred less than one mile from the well and that the energy company in charge of the disposal of the wastewater asked for increases in the maximum injection pressure on two different occasions at Northstar 1, the well linked to the Youngstown quakes.
There are around 200 deep wells in the state of Ohio, 177 of those which are used for the disposal of oil and gas waste. The deep wells are around 9,000 feet deep and are used during the hydraulic fracturing process. 202 million barrels of oilfield fluids have been disposed of in the state of Ohio since 1983. However, the disposal wells in Ohio make up only one percent of the 150,000 disposal wells in the United States. 2 billion gallons of oil and gas waste are disposed of on a daily basis in the United States!
The seismic events, which have occurred in an area not known for such activity, has not surprised some people. For instance, Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund’s energy program, noted a similar occurrence of a 4.7 magnitude earthquake in Arkansas on Feb. 27, 2011. Anderson believes that the re-injection of wastewater into deep injection wells is what is causing the seismic activities to occur rather than the process of hydraulic fracturing itself.
Due to the findings linking the injection of high-pressure fluid into wells to the recent seismic events in Ohio, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has declared new regulations for the transportation and disposal of wastewater. These include requiring operators to document and hand-over geological data before drilling, including knowledge of geological fault lines in the area, and the installation of advanced pressure and monitoring devices. In addition, the new regulations prohibit the drilling of any new wells into affected rock formation.
Hydraulic fracturing is reputed by some to be a financially viable way to extract natural gas. However, the environmental and health costs associated with hydraulic fracturing may not be worth it in the end. In order to ensure the well-being of the environment, more stringent regulations on hydraulic fracturing and the re-injection of wastewater into deep injection wells needs to be implemented. In order to take a stand and create change, please become a registered voter in order to voice your opinion on matters such as hydraulic fracturing.
Photo credit: evs.anl.gov/project/dsp_fsdetail_new.cfm?id=118