US quakes linked to fracking

2012-01-04 11:33
Washington - Fears that several small earthquakes in the US state of Ohio may have been triggered by the disposal of wastewater from "fracking" has prompted the closure of an injection well - and questions about the oil and gas extraction technique.

The latest and strongest earthquake, which had a magnitude of 4.0, occurred on New Year's Eve near the well operated by D&L Energy in Youngstown, in a region of northeastern Ohio that has seen a boom in fracking activity at a major shale formation known as the Utica Shale.

The state had quietly shut down operations at the Youngstown injection well after a 2.7 magnitude quake on December 24, but then extended the moratorium to a five-mile (8km) radius around the well after the larger quake on December 31, industry officials said.

"As a precautionary measure we've reached agreement with the well's owner to halt injections until we are able to further assess and determine any potential links with recent seismic events," the state's natural resources director James Zehringer said.

"I consider the link to be persuasive," John Armbruster, a seismologist with Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who studied the quakes, told AFP on Tuesday.

"In three dimensions, the earthquake is about a kilometre from the bottom of the well."

Link


After measuring the latest of 11 earthquakes, Armbruster's team told state regulators that "the link between them seems pretty good and they decided to shut down the well, which was their responsibility."

A spokesperson for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association said the suspension was the right thing to do until the event was better understood.

"We also believe that while we may have a suspicious event here, nonetheless we do not have a direct link. That needs to be established by using good scientific measurements," said Tom Stewart, the association's executive vice president.

Ohio's oil and gas industry has a lot riding on the development because the huge oil shale formations in Ohio are believed to hold potential reserves of up to 5.5 billion barrels of oil and 15 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process by which high-pressure injections of water, sand and chemicals are used to blast through rock to release oil and gas trapped inside, is considered key to unlocking that potential.

The wastewater that comes back out of those wells are then disposed of in separate injection wells.

Stewart pointed out that there are 180 water injection wells in operation in Ohio, taking in seven million barrels of wastewater a year, and problems have been rare since they began in the mid-1980s.

"In my view, if there is a link - if being the operative word - you have this proverbial needle in a haystack where this well system may be touching some kind of fault system, or something similar to that, underneath the basement rock, causing those types of temblors," he said.

"But these wells have been in operation since the 1980s and the track record is superb. It is the preferred method for managing the waste stream," he said.

Side effects

But little is known about the potential side effects of such operations on a larger scale, and while earthquakes have been rare, they are not unprecedented.

A large cluster of earthquakes in Arkansas last year prompted authorities there to suspend operations at two water injection wells, and seismologists at Southern Methodist University found links to quakes near an injection well in the Fort Worth-Dallas area in 2009.

The Youngstown injection well entered in operation in December 2010, and soon after, in March, the earthquakes began.

By the end of last year, 11 earthquakes had occurred, all in virtually the same location and at the same depth, ranging in magnitude from 2.1 to 4.0.

They caused no injuries and only minor damage, but they were especially surprising in that the area had little history of seismic activity.

"My view is you cannot predict what is going to happen when you start operating one of these injection wells, because the earthquakes that are happening are earthquakes you are triggering, sitting, waiting to happen and you've given these earthquakes a slight extra push," Armbruster said.

"In order to predict what a given well is going to do, it's like predicting an earthquake. And no one has predicted a method for predicting earthquakes."

Read more on:    us  |  fracking
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
4 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Pre-order your iPhone 6 at kalahari.com

Hurry and pre-order your own iPhone 6 now at SA’s favourite online store!

Bargain box – 60% off

Reduced prices, very limited stock. While stocks last. Hurry and shop now!

Mind blow low prices on electronics

Get either the Prestigio multiphone or Proline tablet 7” tablet for only R699. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now!

30% off Barbie toys

Save 30% on all Barbie toys and accessories. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Baby extravanganza month at kalahari.com

Celebrate baby month with a wide range of awesome baby products. Offers valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Something may be bothering you. A flooded mind and impulsive reactions are not a good combination as you are not thinking clearly....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.