State officials are trying to figure out what’s behind a recent string of earthquakes in northeast Ohio. As Andy Chow reports, a national geological expert believes shale drilling is the cause.
The state is suspending operations at a drilling site in Mahoning County as investigators take a closer look into recent seismic activity. In the span of about a week, researchers say the Youngstown area experienced about ten earthquakes.
Won-Young Kim, a seismic researcher for Columbia University, says the two strongest earthquakes measured at a 2.6 magnitude and a 3.0 magnitude. Kim says these quakes, which are unusually strong for the region, are most likely linked to shale drilling operations.
“Obviously there’s a good chance that these shocks might have been related to those drillings or injections by pressure fluid injections into the area," Kim said.
According to Kim, seismic records in the last 100 years have shown very little activity in the northeast part of Ohio. That is, until drilling operations ramped up in the area.
“So there is some activity, but in the eastern part of Ohio there was not many activity except Ashtabula, Youngstown, this northeastern corner, where there was active fluid injection going on and they == many of them were probably linked to that human activity," Kim said.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources declined an interview for this story. In a written statement, spokesperson Mark Bruce said the department has suspended operations for one of Hilcorp Energy’s pads.
Hilcorp is a Texas-based company with several permits for horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in Mahoning County. Bruce says the department will gather and analyze the data surrounding the earthquakes but adds that it’s premature to draw any conclusions about the cause of the quakes.
Michael Hansen, the lead geologist for Ohio’s earthquake information center, could not be reached for comment.
Kim agreed that more research is needed.
“We need more information to understand cause and effect," he said. "In this case we don’t have the information yet.”
The same type of follow-up occurred after other quakes rattled the Youngstown area near the end of 2011. Kim said researchers later determined that those earthquakes were connected to fracking waste injection wells.
Democratic Representative Bob Hagan of Youngstown, has been a vocal advocate for strong fracking regulations in the state. He accused ODNR of withholding too much information and said he hopes the recent seismic activity spurs policy changes.
“We have to really think about what we want to do in the future with this type of drilling," Hagan said. "I mean, if it’s causing problems, if it’s causing earthquakes, it’s endangering the water table, the drinking water of a lot of people in the Mahoning Valley.”
According to the most recent ODNR records, the department has issued 29 permits for shale drilling operations in Mahoning County.
Kim urges that he’s only providing his input as a scientist and not an advocate for or against drilling. He adds that if shale drilling operations are truly connected to the earthquakes then a good way to prevent future activity is to implement more seismic monitoring policies.