Ohio ended 2011 with a magnitude 4.0 earthquake on New Year’s Eve, the second quake to strike the area within a week and the 11th of the year. That earthquake, the most recent and the strongest, was traced back to the fluid injection wells at a fracking site in Youngstown, Ohio. Indeed, all 11 earthquakes occurred “within two miles of the injection wells.”
Now, state officials are shutting down the injection wells and letting the waste fluids that were injected to “bubble back to the surface in an effort to relieve underground pressure.” The original injection pressure will force the brine waste water back out of the well into storage tanks, which should “help stop the ground from shaking.”
It is increasingly clear to experts and state officials that the earthquakes were triggered by the fracking process. The epicenter of the last earthquake was only 330 feet from the earthquake that occurred only a week before. For seismologists, the “evidence is convincing”:
John Armbruster, a Columbia University seismologist who installed the seismometers at the state’s request, said yesterday he thinks that the disposal well triggered the quakes.
“I find the evidence convincing,” Armbruster said.
Brine is salty waste water that comes out of the ground from working oil and gas wells, including shale wells that have been “fracked.” The fracking process injects millions of gallons of water and chemicals underground to shatter shale and release the trapped oil and gas.
More than half the brine injected in Ohio disposal wells comes from Marcellus shale wells in Pennsylvania. Ohio officials expect shale drilling and fracking to pick up in this state as energy companies tap the Utica shale here.
The serious danger of water pollution and earthquakes should serve as a warning to Ohio politicians who remain committed to opening up the state’s parks to fracking. Seventy percent of Ohioans oppose the idea. But perhaps politicians like Gov. John Kasich (R) are blind to the danger because of the level of donations they receive from the Oil and Gas Association.
But even the Ohio Oil and Gas Association supported the decision to stop the injections as “a rational thing to do.” The Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection, however, wondered why such actions took so long. “What about earthquakes one through nine?,” said the group’s president Vanessa Pesec. “It seems remarkable to me that they would not have done something until earthquake 10.”