Ohio earthquakes linked with fracking waste disposal

Geologic study leaves little room for doubt

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A Dec. 31, 2011 earthquake linked with fracking rattled plaster around Youngstown, Ohio.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Youngstown, Ohio, seemingly on stable ground, had never experienced an earthquate going all the way back to 1776. But that all changed in December 2010, when a newly built well started to pump fracking wastewater into the ground.

Starting in January 2011, seismic instruments recorded 109 tremors, and a careful study of the pattern of earthquakes — as strong as a magnitude 3.9 — suggests they are linked to the well in neighboring Pennsylvania.

In a study published in Geophysical Research-Solid Earth, researchers said the onset, cessation, and even temporary dips in activity were all tied to the activity at the Northstar 1 well. The first earthquake recorded in the city occurred 13 days after pumping began, and the tremors ceased shortly after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shut down the well in December 2011.

“In recent years, waste fluid generated during the shale gas production — hydraulic fracturing, had been increasing steadily in United States. Earthquakes were triggered by these waste fluid injection at a deep well in Youngstown, Ohio during Jan. 2011 – Feb. 2012,” the authors wrote.

Dips in earthquake activity correlated with Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, as well as other periods when the injection at the well was temporarily stopped.

“The earthquakes were centered in subsurface faults near the injection well. These shocks were likely due to the increase in pressure from the deep waste water injection which caused the existing fault to slip,” said lead author Dr. Won-Young Kim.

“Throughout 2011, the earthquakes migrated from east to west down the length of the fault away from the well — indicative of the earthquakes being caused by expanding pressure front,” he concluded.

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3 Responses

  1. This is distinctly non-news. The connection to increased disposal volumes has been recognized and acknowledged for some time. There is a National Research Council report that discussed this induced seismicity that came out last year or earlier. It is, however, deceptive to suggest a link to hydraulic fracturing in the headline. It would have been more appropriate to title the item “Ohio earthquakes linked to disposal well for fracking wastes.” This would avoid the spurious link commonly made between actual hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes, which the National Research Council largely dismissed. The important concern is about elevated volumes of waste disposal (from whatever new source) and inadequate characterization of the geological environment of the disposal wells, as noted by the NRC.

  2. Ohio and Pennsylvania are both negligent in performing the geologic due diligence necessary for proper high-volume liquid waste disposal. It is perhaps incorrect to link the earthquakes experienced in Ohio directly to fracturing operations, as the volume and flow required is generally not produced by individual fracturing events. High volume disposal is almost certain to produce seismic events if the fluid is injected into the earth where significant stresses exist – and where in the Earth’s crust do these stresses not exist? We live on a tectonic planet.

    Colorado is the state where in the 1970′s the relationship between fluid injection and seismic events was proven beyond any doubt. In a now world-famous experiment, the number and magnitude of earthquakes increased proportionately to the flow and volume of water pumped under pressure into the Rangely oilfield. The Colorado Geological Survey has more complete information on the phenomena of Triggered (Induced) earthquakes at http://geosurvey.state.co.us/hazards/Earthquakes/Pages/Triggered(Induced)Earthquakes.aspx

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