Ohio earthquake was not a natural event, expert says

CLEVELAND Tue Jan 3, 2012 7:40pm EST

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A 4.0 magnitude earthquake in Ohio on New Year's Eve did not occur naturally and may have been caused by high-pressure liquid injection related to oil and gas exploration and production, an expert hired by the state of Ohio said on Tuesday.

Ohio's Department of Natural Resources on Sunday suspended operations at five deep well sites in Youngstown, Ohio, where the injection of water was taking place, while they evaluate seismological data from a rare quake in the area.

The wells are about 9,000 feet deep and are used to dispose of water from oil and gas wells. The process is related to fracking, the controversial injection of chemical-laced water and sand into rock to release oil and gas. Critics say that the high pressure injection of the liquid causes seismic activity.

Won-Young Kim, a research professor of Seismology Geology and Tectonophysics at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that circumstantial evidence suggests a link between the earthquake and the high-pressure well activity.

"We know the depth (of the quake on Saturday) is two miles and that is different from a natural earthquake," said Kim, who is advising the state of Ohio.

Data collected from four seismographs set up in November in the area confirm a connection between the quakes and water pressure at the well, Kim said.

"There is circumstantial evidence to connect the two -- in the past we didn't have earthquakes in the area and the proximity in the time and space of the earthquakes matches operations at the well," he said.

A spokesman for Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, a strong supporter of oil and gas exploration in the state, said Ohio could announce a preliminary decision whether to continue the suspension of the wells as early as Wednesday.

The state was already looking into the cause of earlier seismic activity from 10 previous earthquakes, beginning in March, 2011.

According to Kim, this is not the first time Ohio tremors have been linked to human activities. "We have several examples of earthquakes from deep well disposal in the past," Kim said.

A quake of 4.2 magnitude in Ashtabula, Ohio, on January 26, 2001, was believed to be due to deep-well injection, he said. And in 1987 there was an incident with a correlation to high pressure deep well injection, he said.

There are 177 so-called "class two" deep wells in Ohio, according to Tom Stewart, executive vice president of Ohio Oil and Gas Association. They all operate under federal guidelines spelled out by the Clean Water Act.

There is no evidence that the wells in Youngstown were operating at higher pressures than allowed, Stewart said.

"We haven't seen anything from anyone at (the state agency) that would lead us to believe that the well was not operating properly," he said.

Kim said that even though the wells have stopped pumping water into the rock, the area might not have experienced its last earthquake. "It could take a couple of years for the earthquakes to go away. The migration of the fluid injected into the rock takes a long time to leave," Kim said.

Ohio's Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown, said the quick response by the state shows it is a serious issue.

"There are things we need to know about drilling and earthquakes," Brown told Reuters on Tuesday.

Brown said he supports new energy exploration that brings jobs to the state but has questions about how companies will handle fracking and wastewater disposal. "They have got to answer the question of what they are going to do with the waste just like nuclear power," Brown said.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Jim Marshall)

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Comments (4)
guruchild wrote:
Are you fracking kidding me? Injecting high pressure liquids deep into solid rocks might cause unnatural earth quakes? Of fracking course it does. For frack’s sake, It doesn’t take a world-renowned geologist or a physics guru to figure this shale out.

Jan 03, 2012 11:18pm EST  --  Report as abuse
reddragon696 wrote:
Exactly what is it going to take before Ohio and the other ‘Fracking’ States admit that Fracking is a VERY BAD IDEA. Do they have to destroy the entire State killing unknown amounts of people before they will stop this environmentally disastrous attempt to make even more fossil fuel? It is amazing how greedy people will throw safety to the winds whenever it comes to making money. Even if they don’t want to admit there is a connection between Fracking and these Earthquakes, how do they explain that in every single instance where there has been an earthquake in an area not known for them there has been an attempt at Fracking somewhere close by. We really need to take heed and put everything we have into alternative fuel while we still have an environment to work with. At the rate we are going there will soon be nothing left as it is just a matter of time before we cause some sort of irreversibly devastating destruction in our lame attempts to find and use fossil fuel because it is easier and makes us money quicker than searching for alternative and safe fuel sources.

Jan 04, 2012 4:28am EST  --  Report as abuse
Frackem wrote:
“Critics say that the high pressure injection of the liquid causes seismic activity.”

Ahem, excuse me, the Colorado School of Mines said that high pressure injection of fluid causes sesmic activiy when they studied this particular man made phenomena at Rangeley Field Colorado when they were doing the induced seismicity studies. Look it up then think about the seriously about dishonesty in media reporting. If this article is not intentionally dishonest then the writer is ill informed and should do some research into the induced seismicity studies. Earthquakes caused buy fluid injection is no surprise to the oil and gas industry.

Jan 04, 2012 5:16am EST  --  Report as abuse
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