Industry and environmental advocates are weighing-in on how a significant policy shift by the state of Ohio could impact oil and gas drilling nationwide. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports on the state’s historic announcement that there may be a link between drilling and earthquakes.
For years questions have surrounded the controversial drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, and whether or not it causes earthquakes. Now Ohio appears to be the first state to say it can draw a probable correlation between fracking and seismic activity.
Mark Bruce, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, says the state reached this conclusion after investigating a series of earthquakes in Northeast Ohio last month.
“We cannot draw a definitive connection because the depths of different events ranges. They range greatly in distance and depth," Bruce said. "But there are some that happen at the same depth as the well, so that’s why we can draw that probable connection.”
Tom Stewart is executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, one of the state’s top trade associations for the industry. He says other states, such as Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, have been investigating a link between fracking and seismic activity, but no state has gone as far as Ohio.
“This is the first time, to the best of my knowledge, where a state has set in place a policy as it relates to hydraulic fracturing," Stewart said.
The Ohio Environmental Council has been a vocal advocate for more regulation on fracking. Deputy Director Jack Shaner hopes the link to earthquakes will impact future policy.
“This is huge, this could be a real game-changer. Industry can no longer just blithely strike back and say ‘Oh, no one’s ever found a connection,’" Shaner said. "Baloney. it’s happened and it’s happened here in Ohio.”
Researchers have already said injection wells can be connected to seismic activity after several earthquakes rattled the Youngstown area at the end of 2011. Injection wells are used to dispose of fracking waste.
Stewart urges that people keep this new possible link between fracking and earthquakes into perspective adding that earthquakes on a small scale happen on a constant, day-by-day basis.
“I think we need to recognize that and to say that it’s related to oil and gas could it be? I imagine that it could be," Stewart said. "But these are all natural events that are happening as well.”
Shaner believes the policy shift is especially noteworthy given that it comes from Gov. John Kasich’s administration.
“The Kasich administration has been cheerleader-in-residence from day one for the oil and gas industry for production for ‘go, go, go’ on the shale gas,’" Shaner said. "And so when the Kasich administration’s own department of natural resources finds a link between fracking and earthquakes, you know something is really afoot and that the science must show a pretty clear connection here.”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is now requiring oil and drilling companies to implement seismic monitoring policies if they want to frack near a fault line or an area known for seismic activity.
Stewart says it’s too soon to know how these conditions will impact oil and gas companies and will have to review the new terms case-by-case. He does add that there are companies that already implement seismic monitoring measures as they drill.