Ohio investigates cause of weekend earthquake in drilling region
State officials are investigating whether a magnitude 3.0 earthquake in the Wayne National Forest was caused by nearby oil and gas operations. It wouldn’t be the first time: Hundreds of temblors have been linked to drilling operations and injection wells in Ohio and other states.
The Ohio quake occurred about 8 a.m. Sunday near Graysville in Monroe County in the national forest’s Marietta Unit. Activity at nearby wells was halted within an hour after the quake, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, whose seismologists are investigating the quake’s potential sources.
According to the state, eight permitted Utica shale well sites are within 5 miles of the epicenter of Sunday’s earthquake, which is about 120 miles southeast of Columbus; the quake was not related to Monroe County’s sole, inactive injection well.
Fracking involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to fracture rock formations and release trapped oil and gas. The wastewater that comes up with the oil and gas can be reused, but disposal eventually is necessary. Frequently, that wastewater is injected deep underground.
“Review of the seismic data placed the event … in proximity to ongoing oil- and gas-well completion operations,” Department of Natural Resources spokesman Steve Irwin said in an email. “The division continues to evaluate seismic data and completion operations in the area.”
It’s too soon to connect regional hydraulic fracturing with Sunday’s quake, said Miami University seismologist Mike Brudzinski. “I think it’s natural to think of this as a potential relationship. The next step is trying to do the science to make sure that’s true,” he said.
Brudzinski said Ohio typically experiences earthquakes of this magnitude a couple of times a year. Still, he noted that the state’s southeastern region is not one with a long history of seismic activity.
That region is slated for more fracking activity. Since December, federal officials have auctioned the oil and gas leasing rights for more than 1,800 acres of the Wayne National Forest’s Marietta Unit for eventual fracking.
“The reason this (earthquake) is generating more attention is the location,” Brudzinski said. “People are concerned about this as an indication of a risk involved with hydraulic fracturing.”
To that end, environmentalists are calling on federal officials to withdraw plans for fracking in Ohio’s only national forest. “We know this has occurred in Ohio and across the country before,” said Jen Miller, director of Sierra Club Ohio. “I think it (raises) the question of, ‘Why are we doing more of this?’”
In 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey released results of its first widespread examination of possible links between earthquakes and the oil and gas industry. It reported that oil and gas drilling and wastewater-injection wells spurred hundreds of earthquakes in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas as well as Ohio.
Since 2014, after earthquakes connected with oil and gas industry activity affected parts of eastern and northeastern Ohio, the state has required operators of any fracked well within 3 miles of a known fault or in areas prone to seismic activity to install seismic monitors. Operators of injection wells that take fracking wastewater and operate in areas where earthquakes have happened also are required to monitor for quakes.
A team of Miami University researchers published a study in 2015 that linked nearly 80 quakes in Mahoning County to nearby oil and gas operations. Another team of researchers published a report in 2014 arguing that fracking triggered hundreds of small earthquakes on a previously unmapped fault in Harrison County in 2013.
See also: www.FrackCheckWV.net