YOUNGSTOWN — The cause of the earthquakes near Youngstown in 2011 may be just what experts have been saying: isolated incidents triggered by the location of the injection well on the west side.
Some members of the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate heard testimony on the injection wells and earthquake connection Jan. 17 at a joint meeting of the agriculture and natural resources subcommittee members at Youngstown State University.
The meeting was convened to gather expert testimony on the matter of Class II brine injection wells. A total of 11 earthquakes shook the Youngstown area between March and Dec. 31, 2011. Brine is a mixture of salty water and other byproducts produced by natural gas and oil drilling. To check out where Class II brine injection wells are located across Ohio, click here.
Dr. Bob Chase, professor at the Edwy R. Brown Department of Petroleum Engineering at Marietta College, described a case in Marietta where a man watched a portion of his land fall. It was determined to be subsidence caused by an old abandoned coal mine.
State Rep. Tom Letson, D-Warren, said that there are many abandoned coal mines that are not mapped or detailed anywhere in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. He asked if the subsidence caused in Marietta by the coal mine could be tied to the earthquakes in Youngstown.
Chase said the subsidence would be a micro-seismic event compared to what happens in an earthquake.
Rep. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, asked Chase about the earthquakes that have shook Marietta, Ohio, and wondered if they could also be tied to the injection wells in that area.
Chase said he knew of two earthquakes in the area and four injection wells, but he is not convinced the quakes were related to the wells. One reason he said was the depth at which the earthquakes occurred. He also said he needs more scientific proof before linking the injection wells with the tremors.
Chase told Hagan he would not be in favor of a moratorium on injection wells, either in the Mahoning Valley or near Marietta until he has definite proof the wells are the cause of the quakes.
Dr. Jeffrey Dick, chairman of the geology department at Youngstown State University, also testified at the hearing and suggested some ways officials could potentially reduce the risk for earthquakes.
Dick talked about the depth of the well owned by D&L Energy Inc. on Salt Springs Road in Youngstown. He said that well was drilled more than 9,000 feet. At that depth is the Precambrian rock formation, which can be troublesome because of faults and fractures than occur along the bedrock. He added if brine is injected into the fractures, it can lead to faults.
Dick told the joint subcommittee that drilling should be limited to above the Precambrian rock formation, whose depth varies from around 9,000 feet in northeast Ohio to approximately 12,000 feet in southeast Ohio.
When Dick was asked about creating a limit for injection well depth, he explained that not all rock layers are horizontal so he can’t recommend a depth. But he does recommend not drilling into the Precambrian rock layer.
“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t inject wastewater into Class II injection wells into the Precambrian bedrock,” said Dick.
Dick also told the group that he doesn’t think it’s wise to stop permitting Class II brine injection wells.
Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced Jan. 11 that injection wells would be now limited to a maximum depth of 8,000 feet to avoid faults. That figure later was expanded to the depths of the Precambrian or basement rocks.
To read what Youngstown residents had to say about the earthquakes at a meeting held at the Covelli Center Jan. 11, click here.