Youngstown Earthquake Related to Gas Extraction Industry?

Youngstown, Ohio rang out the old year in style, with a magnitude 4.0 earthquake that apparently felt as far away as Buffalo, but received attention nationally (See the LA Times blog titled 4.0 quake hits Youngstown Ohio. Yes, Ohio.) There is a widespread notion that the temblor was related to Class II injection wells in the area–see for example this Akron Beacon Journal article where Ohio state geologist Michael Hansen is quoted as saying there is “little doubt” that this latest in a series of 11 quakes is the result of activities at injection wells in the immediate area. The article goes on to say that his boss, Ohio Department of Natural Resources director James Zehringer, closed several injection wells in the area as the issue is being examined.

But wait a second…if you go to this NPR link, you see an AP story titled “Earthquake Strikes Near Ohio Fracking Site”, where the same James Zehringer is quoted as saying, “The seismic events are not a direct result of fracking.”

What gives? Actually, there is no discrepancy at all, except that the AP writer lumped injection wells together with hydraulic fracturing, which have some similarities in that they highly pressurized oil injections of oil and gas related fluids, but the two are in fact different. Therefore, saying that the seismic events are not a direct result of fracking is completely true.

But it does make one wonder…most of Pennsylvania has been deemed unsuitable for brine injection wells, which is why much of our waste water has gone to Ohio in the first place. But if these supposedly safe activities can result in a disturbance equivalent to 15 metrics tons of TNT, maybe we don’t really understand what we’re doing down there.

Here are maps showing earthquakes near the Ohio river basin since 1973. For more information on any event, hit the blue “i” button, followed by any map feature. Clicking the gray compass rose and double carat (^) will hide those menus.

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