Fracking (Hydraulic Fracturing) for natural gas has stirred contentious debates among (and between) economists, geologists, environmentalists, industrialists, and local and state politicians in Pennsylvania, New York and more recently Ohio. Most of the debates center around 1) the potential local development benefits and costs (JOBS!) and 2) the environmental side effects of cracking rock thousands of feet below the surface. In case you haven't heard, in Ohio we are now adding a 3rd dimension of debate: EARTHQUAKES!
State officials say they will let waste fluids that were injected thousands of feet down a Youngstown disposal well bubble back to the surface in an effort to relieve underground pressure that might have caused a series of earthquakes.
The Northstar No. 1 disposal well stopped injecting brine and fracking fluids from natural-gas wells in Pennsylvania on Friday, about a day before a 4.0-magnitude quake shook Youngstown. It was the 11th such quake recorded in that area last year and the strongest to date.
The original injection pressure should force the brine back out of the well into 12 storage tanks, said Andy Ware, a deputy director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which oversees Ohio’s oil and gas industry. The hope is that will help stop the ground from shaking.
“This method of allowing it to flow back into the storage tanks is going to hasten this process,” Ware said.
Seismometers, instruments that measure the ground’s motion, that were placed in the Youngstown area after Dec. 1 determined that the 4.0 quake’s epicenter was 330 feet from a magnitude-2.7 quake that occurred on Dec. 24.
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.