Expert: Wastewater well in Ohio triggered quakes

Jan 03, 2012 By THOMAS J. SHEERAN , Associated Press

A northeast Ohio well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas drilling almost certainly caused a series of 11 minor quakes in the Youngstown area since last spring, a seismologist investigating the quakes said Monday.

Research is continuing on the now-shuttered injection well at Youngstown and seismic activity, but it might take a year for the wastewater-related rumblings in the earth to dissipate, said John Armbruster of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

Brine wastewater dumped in wells comes from drilling operations, including the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale that has been a source of concern among environmental groups and some property owners. Injection wells have also been suspected in quakes in Ashtabula in far northeast Ohio, and in Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma, Armbruster said.

Thousands of gallons of brine were injected daily into the Youngstown well that opened in 2010 until its owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC, agreed Friday to stop injecting the waste into the earth as a precaution while authorities assessed any potential links to the quakes.

After the latest and largest Saturday at 4.0 magnitude, state officials announced their beliefs that injecting wastewater near a had created enough pressure to cause . They said four inactive wells within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well would remain closed. But they also stressed that injection wells are different from drilling wells that employ fracking.

Armbruster said Monday he expects more quakes will occur despite the shutdown of the Youngstown well.

"The earthquakes will trickle on as a kind of a cascading process once you've caused them to occur," he said. "This one year of pumping is a pulse that has been pushed into the ground, and it's going to be spreading out for at least a year."

The quakes began last March with the most recent on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve each occurring within 100 meters of the injection well. The Saturday quake in McDonald, outside of Youngstown, caused no serious injuries or property damage.

Youngstown Democrat Rep. Robert Hagan on Monday renewed his call for a moratorium on fracking and well injection disposal to allow a review of safety issues.

"If it's safe, I want to do it," he said in a telephone interview. "If it's not, I don't want to be part and parcel to destruction of the environment and the fake promise of jobs."

He said a moratorium "really is what we should be doing, mostly toward the injection wells, but we should be asking questions on drilling itself."

A spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, an outspoken supporter of the growing oil and natural gas industry in Ohio, said the shale industry shouldn't be punished for a fracking byproduct.

"That would be the equivalent of shutting down the auto industry because a scrap tire dump caught fire somewhere," said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.

He said 177 deep injection wells have operated without incident in Ohio for decades and the Youngstown well was closed within 24 hours of a study detailing how close a Christmas Eve quake was to the well.

The industry-supported Ohio Oil and Gas Association said the rash of quakes was "a rare and isolated event that should not cast doubt about the effectiveness" of injection wells.

Such wells "have been used safely and reliably as a disposal method for wastewater from oil and gas operations in the U.S. since the 1930s," the association's executive vice president, Thomas E. Stewart, said in a statement Monday.

Environmentalists are critical of the hydraulic fracturing process, called fracking, which utilizes chemical-laced water and sand to blast deep into the ground and free the shale gas. Critics fear the process itself or the drilling liquid, which can contain carcinogens, could contaminate water supplies, either below ground, by spills, or in disposed wastewater.

Permits allowing hydraulic fracturing in Ohio's portion of the Marcellus and the deeper Utica Shale formations rose from one in 2006 to at least 32 in 2011.

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User comments : 18

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Sean_W
2.2 / 5 (13) Jan 03, 2012
Maybe this one scientist could explain how this small well also caused the large number of scattered quakes that have been occurring all across the continent recently in a manner that resembles a general upswing of geological activity. Or maybe we should just form a consensus now. All those other quakes had to have been next to fraking sites so let's not bother even asking the question. Science progresses so much faster when no one asks any questions.
Isaacsname
not rated yet Jan 03, 2012
ETI has some interesting reading

http://eti-geoche...flux/#16

Wolf358
4.1 / 5 (8) Jan 03, 2012
Sean_W: please do some research on your own; Many other injection (waste) well sites are experiencing tremors including one the US shut down in (i think) Nevada because the tremors were damaging military facilities. Last I checked, fracking is banned in Pennsylvania for these reasons.
Clue: Lubricants make things slip.
Mayday
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2012
I'm amazed that such a small amount of injected liquid, when considered on a continental scale, could trigger the release of these huge geological energies. Is our geologic underpinning that fragile and hair-triggered? I guess so, right? I certainly can't be the first one to see this simple drilling technique as a potential weapon. Instead of "I drink your milkshake," it would be "I rock your world." Aren't there much, much vaster quantities of water moving around deep underground on a regular basis? I'm definitely not getting something here.
Tomator
3.2 / 5 (5) Jan 03, 2012
Maybe the injection caused those tremors and little quakes but there must have been some geological tension before anyway. If so, releasing this tension by causing many little quakes could be much better than just sitting and waiting for one big earthquake that would kill many pepole some day.
MR166
1.2 / 5 (6) Jan 03, 2012
In a similar vein, I think that one of the problems with geothermal energy is the tendency to create quakes in the area.
NotAsleep
5 / 5 (4) Jan 03, 2012
I hope there's a scientist out there investigating whether or not we could use this process to de-stress fault lines early so they produce 5.0 quakes instead of 9.0 quakes
tadchem
5 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2012
"state officials announced their beliefs that injecting wastewater near a fault line had created enough pressure to cause seismic activity. "
These stateofficials should have consulted a physicist who could have told them that the *pressure* would be the same after the brine was injected as before. The issue would be *lubrication* of the faults and strata.
Personally I find it incredible that the well log (made when the well was first drilled) would not have revealed a shallow fault, or that the operators would have knowingly injected into a fault.
Isaacsname
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2012

I would think if you put enough fluid pressure in between two masses underground

http://upload.wik..._rev.png

That they _could_ slip.

The other thing is that afaik, things like TIORCO's products take 6-9 months while sub-micron polymers invade rock pores to force out fluids when they swell up.

Not all methods of frac'ing and EOR are fast.

Brine ? ...I'm skeptical on that....what exactly constitutes a " brine " to them ? I know it's not seasalt, Halliburton and Co want to come off the patented formulae for frac fluids ?

Prolly not

gmurphy
1 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2012
Such drilling has caused earthquakes in the past, the most notable being in Switzerland 2006 http://www.popsci...thquakes Whilst is it likely that most areas are safe for drilling, imperceptible strains and stress in the topology can be inadvertently triggered by the relatively minor disturbance introduced by drilling.
Roach
1 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2012
@Mayday : I totally agree, I've always thought it was BS when they say, "Don't flick your lit cigarettes on the forest floor, you could start a forest fire." Are our forest on such a thin knife's edge that something as small as my cigarette cherry could throw it out of control.
Hari_Seldon
3 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2012
Roach, do you really not believe a cigarette could cause a forest fire, or are you mocking Mayday? I'm genuinely curious.
GSwift7
2.5 / 5 (4) Jan 04, 2012
I suspect these tremors were not unexpected. They were obviously aware that a natural fault runs near the drilling site. The permit process demands that a geological survey is conducted first, and such quakes are an accepted part of doing industrial scale activities, such as filling a dam, draining a swamp, extracting ground water for irrigation, etc. I would be shocked if they had no clue that quakes were likely to result, before they even began. Frankly, I don't see any cause for alarm here. The drilling is just triggering an event that would have happened eventually anyway. Quakes in the midwest US are not uncommon, as the area continues to rebound from the last ice age, the continent will crack and pop once in a while.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2012
Update:

I have learned more about this story since my previous post.

A spokesperson from the USGS did an interview for NPR radio. He said that there's no hard evidence that the quake is related to the waste water, but it is possible. He also said that Ohio does not require a geological survey before approving a permit, so I stand corrected. He said quakes near disposal sites are not common, despite thousands of disposal sites accross the country. He also said that surveys might not help, and would add cost. The USGS guy basically made it sound like this is being over-played by the media, which wouldn't be surprising.

Then they interviewed local people. The locals didn't want the waste water facility to go away, but they don't want to lose thier homes and businesses either.
Shootist
2 / 5 (4) Jan 07, 2012
Not only are there thousands of disposal sites, there are thousands of potable water injection sites as well. Along with CO2 injection, helium, oil and natural gas injection.

The green propagandist's have raised up a legion of Nervous, but well meaning, Ninnies.
Vendicar_Decarian
0.2 / 5 (36) Jan 07, 2012
Why don't you consider the effects on a galactic or universal scale?

"I'm amazed that such a small amount of injected liquid, when considered on a continental scale, could trigger the release of these huge geological energies." - Mayday

Vendicar_Decarian
0.2 / 5 (35) Jan 07, 2012
"In a similar vein, I think that one of the problems with geothermal energy is the tendency to create quakes in the area." - Mr166

The extraction of geothermal energy requires that enough surface area exist so that the working fluid makes thermal contact with a large volume of rock. Thus fracking is also typically used.

There are alternatives if the rock is very hot or if less heat is removed per hole drilled.
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 09, 2012
In a similar vein, I think that one of the problems with geothermal energy is the tendency to create quakes in the area." - Mr166

The extraction of geothermal energy requires that enough surface area exist so that the working fluid makes thermal contact with a large volume of rock. Thus fracking is also typically used.

There are alternatives if the rock is very hot or if less heat is removed per hole drilled


Typically, geothermal power generation is only done in places that are already geologically active (and prone to quakes) anyway, so it's kinda a moot point.

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