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Oil and gas and earthquakes

Numerous studies have found earthquakes to be connected with hydraulic fracturing, and Ohio oil and gas regulators are dealing with the implications, reports Columbus Business First.

Earthquakes have been linked to wastewater disposal wells, or the injection of fracking fluids back into the earth, but the quakes created are generally too low magnitude for people to notice. One instance, near Youngstown, Ohio, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) determined there was “a probable connection to hydraulic fracturing near a previously unknown microfault,” prompting more strict monitoring rules.

Although Ohio has not had any noticeable earthquakes since then, a science journal has recently published a study that linked oil and gas drilling to earthquakes in Harrison County. The largest magnitudes registered between 1.7 and 2.2 on the Richter scale. It usually isn’t until earthquakes reach magnitudes of 3.0 or higher that people will notice effects, though.

The quakes, which occurred in October 2013, would have been enough to bring oil and gas drilling operations to a halt had the ODNR’s more strict rules been in place. But despite the low magnitudes of the quakes, regulators in Ohio and Oklahoma are trying to determine the connection between various energy development activities and the recent influx of seismic disturbances, as well as trying to determine how to manage public concern.

Tom Knox reports:

“I think all charts show there’s an uptick in seismicity,” said Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, which represents drilling interests. “I also know this: There are much more sophisticated devices that are being more widely applied than before.”

Currently, Ohio requires companies hoping to secure drilling permits for the Utica Shale in the eastern region must first investigate if there are any geological fault lines within a three mile radius of a proposed well site. If faults are detected, or if there is previously recorded seismic activity in the area, operators will be required to place seismic monitors in the area. If there is a seismic movement greater than a magnitude of 1.0 related to fracking, drillers are required to cease operations until state regulators are able to determine the source of the disturbance. If an earthquake is connected to a particular well site, the state reserves the right to stop operations.

Although seismic monitoring systems aren’t overly expensive for drillers, environmental compliance is often beyond the capabilities of geologists working for oil and gas companies. Hiring an outside consulting firm, though, would likely create additional and costly expenses for operators. The frequency of these small earthquakes is a growing concern for oil and gas operators. Operators fear that if these small quakes continue other states may follow the lead of Ohio’s updated regulations.

Shawn Bennett, director of Energy In Depth Ohio, an oil and gas group, says regulators will begin to look at Ohio as a template if earthquakes related to fracking continues to be an issue. He says, “They want to see how well it’ll work in Ohio before they start implementing similar rules. Ohio’s going to be the model to see if it works.”

Since the ODNR released its revised permit rules on April 11, a consortium of states, including Ohio, have begun discussing the potential links between the hydraulic fracturing process and seismic activity.

In related news, Study links hundreds of Ohio quakes to fracking.

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