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Fracking Linked to Earthquakes in Ohio

Briana Mordick

Posted April 11, 2014 in Health and the Environment

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The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced today that recent earthquakes in northeastern Ohio were likely caused by hydraulic fracturing. 

A series of earthquakes up to magnitude 3.0 struck on March 10th and 11th in Mahoning County near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. A nearby Utica oil well was being hydraulically fractured at the time of the quakes, leading ODNR shut down the operation until a possible link could be investigated further.

This is now the fourth documented case of induced seismicity linked to hydraulic fracturing, and the latest in a series of earthquakes in Ohio caused by oil and gas production activities. The earlier quakes resulted from disposal of waste water into underground injection wells.

Scientists have long known that injecting fluids underground can cause earthquakes. Despite this fact, neither state nor federal regulations require operators of hydraulically fractured wells or disposal wells to evaluate the risk of induced earthquakes when deciding where to site wells or how to operate them. Ohio will now be the first state to require companies to monitor for seismic activity during hydraulic fracturing and shut down operations if earthquakes occur.

Earthquakes caused by oil and gas production activities have been happening across the U.S., including in places where natural earthquakes are uncommon. It’s time for regulators everywhere to put public health and safety first, and create rules to assess and mitigate the risk of induced earthquakes.

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Comments (Add yours)

JakeApr 11 2014 09:04 PM

Come back when you have evidence that causing these tremors presents a danger to life, property, or environment.

Heck, for all we know, causing these tiny earthquakes might reduce the chance of a big one. Unlikely, though, because the big ones ususally are much deeper underground meaning fracking operations probably present little danger in terms of earthquakes.

rj sigmundApr 12 2014 10:37 AM

Jake, you have it backwards; USGS said a fracking induced 5.0 quake in Oklahoma caused a larger 5.7 quake that severely damaged 17 homes: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/11/energy-earthquake-oklahoma-idUSL2N0M80SP20140311

JakeApr 12 2014 03:04 PM

Rj, did you bother to read the article before posting it? That was a wastewater injection well, not fracking. And there are much fewer of the former than the latter.

Josh MogermanApr 15 2014 07:02 PM

Jake--

Umm, novel. Induced seismicity *might* be a good thing... This blog brings evidence that there is an issue. You got any noting that it relieves pressure for "big ones"? Otherwise, folks in areas like the Mahoning Valley that were not previously dealing with earthquakes have a right be concerned...

Briana MordickApr 15 2014 07:59 PM

Jake,
There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that larger earthquakes can be prevented by smaller earthquakes. Small earthquakes do relieve stress on a fault, but not enough to prevent large earthquakes. Each whole number increase in earthquake magnitude represents about 32 times more energy being released. So, for example, it would take about 1,000 magnitude 3 earthquakes to release the same energy released by a magnitude 5 earthquake, 32,000 magnitude 3's to equal a magnitude 6, and 1,000,000 magnitude 3's to equal a magnitude 7.

Hydraulic fracturing-induced seismicity in the UK resulted in damage to the well casing, and the maximum magnitude there was only 2.3. Loss of mechanical integrity can potentially allow gas or brine to migrate upward and contaminate groundwater.

Even in the absence of actual damage, induced seismic events can be a nuisance to communities and a source of anxiety and may have financial and manpower costs associated with the investigation of the causes and effects of the earthquake and from the suspension of operations until such studies are completed.

States and the federal government should take common sense steps to address the risk of induced seismicity.

JakeApr 16 2014 08:01 AM

Briana,

That's a nice try, but what you're really hoping for is to scare communities into stopping oil exploration. Nobody is against being prudent, investigating risks, etc.

However you present this as something that is a real danger to human life and property even though there is no such evidence.

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