On New Year's Eve 2011, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake rocked Akron and the rest of Northeast Ohio.
That quake was traced to an injection well near Youngstown. Below ground was a rock fracture that's getting lubricated by the pressurized salty drilling wastes injected deep underground for disposal.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources moved quickly to shut down the injection well, operated by D&L Energy Inc.
But earthquakes in Ohio and other states, including Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, increasingly have been linked to injection wells, and that has raised concerns.
Ohio is laced with more than 200 injection wells. The volume getting injected is growing as exploration for gas and oil in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania has accelerated, and Ohio is becoming receptacle for millions of gallons of waste generated from the hydraulic fracturing process.
To keep a high-tech, closer eye on linkage between wells and quakes, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management and private companies are installing mobile seismic devices in eastern Ohio.
The state so far has installed 19 out of 23 seismic devices at a cost of about $22,000 each near injection wells in seven counties, and to date has turned up no evidence of problems, state spokesman Mark Bruce said.
"We feel that it is a very worthwhile investment," he said. "It also helps protect public safety and the environment."
In addition, private companies have installed eight other seismic monitors and are providing that information to Columbus.
The counties getting the most seismic devices are Trumbull, Mahoning and Washington.
Trumbull County with 21 injection wells was No. 1 in Ohio for injection wastes and is receiving the most monitors: five owned by the state and four by private companies. Trumbull is directly east of Portage County, which is No. 2 for injections but has gotten no monitors.
The state's emphasis has been on deeper injection wells and high-volume wells, Bruce said, and that's why Portage County has not gotten any monitors.
Mahoning County, where many of the quakes have been detected, got two state and four private devices. Washington County, on the Ohio River at Marietta, got five stations from the state.
The other Ohio counties getting state seismic equipment are Tuscarawas, two stations; Muskingum, one station; Harrison, two stations; and Meigs, two stations.
At the end of 2013, Ohio had 194 injection wells, and over the year injected 16.3 million barrels of waste, a 15 percent increase from 2012. About 25 percent of all the injected wastes went into two counties: Trumbull and Portage.
About half of the total comes from other states, including Pennsylvania.
The state and the drilling industry say that injection wells are the best and safest way to get rid of drilling wastes. Activists say they fear that injection wells will trigger quakes and contaminate drinking water.
The state is working with California-based Hasting Microseismic Consulting on the monitoring project. The first devices were installed in 2012 and the state ramped up installations in 2013, he said.
The devices require drilling a hole about 9 feet deep and lining it with a pipe. The device, about 1 foot tall and 3 inches in diameter, is then inserted. The information is relayed via a wireless cellphone monitor to ODNR offices in Columbus. The information also is available to state employees in the field.
Multiple devices can be installed around one well. For optimum readings, a device is placed as far from the well head as the well is deep, Bruce said.
The devices measure and pinpoint quakes. They do nothing in terms of predicting or forecasting quakes, he said.
The expanded state seismic system is providing "great information," Bruce said.
Officials have learned that there are numerous small earthquakes, most of which cannot be felt by people.
ODNR is planning to keep the portable devices in place for about a year and if no problems are detected, they'll be moved, Bruce said.
In 1999, Ohio had one seismic device. Today there are more than 50, counting federal, state, universities and private devices, Bruce said. A separate ODNR Ohio Seismic Network coordinated by Mike Hansen has 29 participating devices.
By Bob Downing - The Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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