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Fracking Spurred Ohio Earthquakes: Some Not Surprised

PHOTO: Researchers from Miami University say a magnitude-3 earthquake in Mahoning County in 2014 was one of the largest to be caused by hydraulic fracturing in the United States. Photo credit: Lock the Gate Alliance/Flickr.
PHOTO: Researchers from Miami University say a magnitude-3 earthquake in Mahoning County in 2014 was one of the largest to be caused by hydraulic fracturing in the United States. Photo credit: Lock the Gate Alliance/Flickr.
January 7, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Some environmentalists and energy-industry observers say they are not surprised by a new study that connects earthquakes to hydraulic fracturing in Ohio.

Dozens of quakes occurred in March 2014 in Mahoning County, including a magnitude-3 quake felt in neighboring areas. The study from Miami University concluded that the tremors were spurred by fracking activity.

In the future, said Ted Auch, Great Lakes program coordinator for Fractracker, the shale gas drilling isn't as concerning as the disposal of fracking waste into injection wells.

"We have definitely gotten out ahead of our skis as far as the volumes that we take in from out of state and within state," he said. "These injection wells, they're proving - time and time again - ill-equipped to handle the volumes and the pressures that they're asked to take in."

There are nearly 240 injection wells in Ohio, and many more in the application process. According to the study, fracking activated an existing fault that was unknown prior to the tremors. Researchers say the magnitude-3 last year was one of the largest earthquakes ever induced by hydraulic fracturing in the country.

Nate Lutz, campaign organizer with Environment Ohio, said hydraulic fracturing threatens communities' water, air and overall health. He said he's hopeful that state leaders will take a closer look at the effects and consequences.

"This new research just confirms the problems that we've seen with the hydraulic-fracturing process," he said, "and supports our position that there should be a moratorium on the process until it is proven that it can be done in any kind of a safe manner."

While Utica shale can increase energy independence, job production and community wealth, Auch said, there are few benefits to injection wells.

"Maybe a couple people get rich by accepting the waste, but there's really not a lot of benefits to being the disposal center of brine waste. And those are the wells that quake activity is going to become more and more associated with, if we keep permitting them."

He said another study found that a 2011 earthquake in Youngstown was linked to an injection well.

The report is online at bssaonline.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH