Injection of Fracking Fluids Linked to Ohio Earthquakes
by Bill Chameides (Duke University) …So let’s take a look at specific regulations which were designed to protect the public from injection wells used to dispose of fracking wastes … but because they weren’t comprehensive, when it came to earthquakes, they were no better than, well, no regulation.
In 2011, from March to November, nine small earthquakes were reported in and around Youngstown, Ohio. That’s more than one earthquake per month. All were of 2.7 magnitude (Mw) or less. Given that prior to 2011, no earthquakes centered in the area had been recorded, something unusual seemed to be going on. Some speculated that maybe the proximity of the quakes to a deep injection well — a Class II well used to dispose of fracking waste water [pdf] (there are 144,000 [pdf] Class II wells in the United States) — might be the culprit. After all, all nine quakes had occurred within a one-mile radius of the well [pdf] and injection wells in Texas and Arkansas had been linked to similar bouts of seismicity. (There’s also that USGS study from last year that reported a significant uptick in the number of minor earthquakes in the United States in recent years.)
Only after a tenth event occurred in the area, on December 24, did the state take action.
New Peer-Reviewed Paper Offers Evidence of Link
A paper by Won-Young Kim of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory appearing last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth has now provided that link in the form of a detailed seismicity study of the area. The results are pretty conclusive.
- While a total of only 12 earthquakes were large enough to be recorded in real time between March 2011 and January 2013, Kim’s detailed analysis uncovered a total of 109 quakes (magnitude 0.4-3.9). Keep in mind that Youngstown is a location, Kim points out, “where there were no known earthquakes in the past.”
- The period of earthquake activity tracked the operational life of the Northstar 1 well (the only one of five disposal wells drilled in the area that came online during this period). The quake activity:
- Began 13 days after the start of injection of fracking wastes,
- Dropped off when disposal activity lessened (e.g., during holidays), and
- Decreased in strength before ceasing altogether about a month after the well operations ceased.