Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve 4.3 Earthquake Near Youngstown, Ohio May Be Related To Fracking; Time For Congress To Convene Hearings On Fracking

WKBN Channel 27 reports that a 4.3 magnitude earthquake centered about two miles northwest of Youngstown, Ohio occurred at 3:05 P.M. on December 31st, 2011. Although there are not yet reports of any significant damage, the quake was felt as far away as Cleveland (55 miles), Columbus (145 miles), parts of Pennsylvania, and even in Canada.

This is the eleventh minor quake to hit the area in 2011, and yes, it appears to be related to fracking, or hydraulic fracturing of subsurface rock to recover trapped natural gas. On Friday December 30th, the director of Ohio's Department of Natural Resources announced a halt to operations by D&L Energy at a Youngstown brine injection well which may be the source of the low-level earthquakes, none of which had previously exceeded 2.7 in magnitude, occurring during the past nine months. The injection well, located in the Youngstown area, is used to dispose of wastewater which is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling. Thousands of gallons of brine are injected into the well daily, and much of it is shipped in from out of state. Although there are 177 similar injection wells throughout Ohio, the Youngstown-area well is the only site associated with seismic activity. In the immediate area of Youngstown, D&L Energy has or will soon have wells in Girard, Campbell, Coitsville, Hubbard, Springfield, and in Columbiana County in East Liverpool, Fairfield Township and Elk Run Township.

Here's a video of a good analysis provided by the DutchSinse blog:

One state lawmaker has reacted. Sen. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) is calling for a statewide moratorium on injection wells, and has asked the EPA to intervene. Hagan said he has asked Bill Batchelder, speaker of the Ohio house, to set up bipartisan joint hearings involving the house and senate.

Reaction from area residents is posted as comments to the Youngstown Vindicator story. Many of them suspect a connection between the local earthquake swarm and fracking. The fact that seismic activity has not occurred at the other 176 wells does NOT preclude the possibility that the geology in the areas of the Youngstown well may be too seismically unstable to support fracking. But fracking has also been associated with earthquake swarms in Arkansas and Oklahoma, as well as contamination of water supplies in those areas and in Montana, West Virginia, and New York. These other incidences are further described in my September 18th post. This has clearly become a national problem.

The variability of effects implies that a complete ban on fracking is not necessary. However, we need to find out if there is a common geological profile of vulnerability which should preclude fracking in a particular area. This can be best determined by convening Congressional hearings and inviting interested parties from all sides to provide testimony and empirical evidence. From these hearings can come sensible laws which will impose restrictions upon fracking in areas deemed vulnerable. But first, we must better define "vulnerable".

Alaska stands ready to replace any Lower 48 natural gas which cannot be recovered due to fracking. Our North Slope gas does not require fracking for recovery. Unfortunately, commodity prices are so low that Transcanada, the winner of the AGIA sweepstakes, has no financial interest in building an gas pipeline at this time. During the open season, Transcanada did not receive a sufficient number of shipping commitments to justify proceeding. If Transcanada continues to drag its heels, we are prepare to consider building an All-Alaska Gas Pipeline to Valdez paralleling the TAP, using some Permanent Fund money to jump-start the project.

Alaska's Congressional delegation should be taking the lead in exploring this problem and coming up with legislation to impose sensible restrictions on fracking, particularly since Alaska could economically benefit and become less dependent upon Federal "pork" as a result.

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