Fracking Up Ohio, One Earthquake At A Time

I recently wrote about the link between hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and earthquakes. Scientists and environmentalists are concerned about the side effects of fracking and what it might be doing to fault lines in Oklahoma. Once again, the controversy reared its ugly head; this time in Ohio.

Nearly 400 micro-earthquakes occurred in eastern Ohio in late 2013, including 190 over a two-day period. A report released October 14th detailed how they occurred at an uncharted fault line in Harrison County, directly under three fracking operations. The Seismological Research Letters journal published the findings on behalf of scientists at the Instrumental Software Technologies, Inc. and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The quakes commenced within hours of the start of the process and ended about two months after drilling ended at that location. Though all of the reported quakes were more than two miles underground and not felt by a single person, concern still exists that these minor instances could eventually lead to bigger, and more damaging, earthquakes. Cornell University Geophysics Professor Rowena Lohman stated,

We’ve known for a really long time, going back to the ’70s, that when you do any subsurface manipulation you cause small earthquakes. The big question is: Are we doing something now that increases the probability that it will induce larger quakes?

Scientists arrived at the results by comparing seismographs located near the drilling sites with maps of nearby oil and gas wells. All of the earthquakes coincided with the fracking operations. Seismologist Paul Friberg, co-author of the study, stated that the findings were without doubt; “there are no seismologists who have reviewed our work who think they were unconnected.”

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources halted drilling in March after two small earthquakes were triggered in Poland Township. Ohio now requires fault lines to be inspected before any fracking operations commence. This is a critical way to keep fracking accidents and issues at bay. New Brunswick is taking a similarly cautious approach to fracking. Researchers there are monitoring water quality in areas where fracking operations are being proposed before they actually begin. The goal is to compare the water assessments throughout the fracking process to measure any contamination from the drilling.

Being proactive instead of reactive ensures that risky energy technologies such as fracking are done safely. Like any technology, constant research is needed to improve safety and generate more efficient results. Staying the course and accepting the status quo only opens up processes to more danger, therefore preventing earthquakes through better monitoring of fracking operations is not only smart; it’s necessary.



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