January 7, 2012 by staff
Youngstown Earthquake, Ohio officials are still investigating whether oil and gas activity caused a New Year’s Day earthquake near Youngstown, but scientists have known for years that injecting oil and waste underground causes such earthquakes.
“Oil and gas induced seismicity has been dealt with successfully and is well understood,” the Department of Energy states on its website.
But a growing number of critics have a less sanguine view of production methods that trigger temblors. The magnitude-4.0 quake near a deep injection well has widened unease in Ohio and Pennsylvania about oil and gas production from shale, which some have labeled “fracking,” for the process of hydraulic fracturing.
Similar “underground injection” of brine from shale is believed to have caused earthquakes in Arkansas earlier this year. Oil and gas production itself has caused earthquakes, most famously in Wilmington, Calif., where oil extraction caused earthquakes that stretched from 1947 to 1961.
But it’s not just oil and gas activity that makes the ground shake. More “earth-friendly” production methods, such as geothermal and carbon sequestration, are also known to have set the earth rumbling.
A National Academy of Sciences panel is already studying how oil and gas production and other types of energy production can lead to man-made earthquakes.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) requested the study of “induced seismicity” a year and a half ago, troubled that the kind of fears triggered by the Ohio quake could shake public confidence in the country’s growing energy industry.
“Much of public opposition to the deployment of advanced energy technologies in the United States stems from a lack of clear, trusted information regarding the safety of those new energy facilities for the local communities that are their neighbors,” Bingaman wrote in a June 2010 letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, asking for interagency cooperation on such a study.
The NAS study committee has met seven times since the study began in September 2010: twice in California, once in Texas and four times at NAS headquarters in Washington, D.C. It is expected to issue a report in early summer.
In Youngstown, earthquakes have shaken support for oil and gas production, which Gov. John Kasich (R) has promoted as a “gold rush” (ClimateWire, Sept. 20, 2011). The eastern part of the state sits atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale, which is emerging as a new potential source of gas liquids and oil.
Suspicion in the Youngstown-area earthquakes centers around not drilling itself, or the fracturing process, but underground injection of brine.
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