Energy. Environment. Economy.

Explaining Pennsylvania’s Link To Ohio Earthquakes

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Girard, Ohio experienced a 4.0 earthquake on December 31

Everybody wants to ring in New Year’s Eve with a bang.

Most people just want a heads-up the bang is coming.

Diane Slender was at home, drying her hair, on the afternoon of December 31st. “I was in the bedroom and this big – baboom! My husband thought I fell,” she said. “And he’s like, are you all right?”

Linda DeProfo felt it, too. She was closing up the candy shop she runs, when, “we heard the boom and the front window was shaking back and forth and we didn’t know what it was. …It took a couple minutes and then we realized, it was another earthquake.”

That’s right – another earthquake. The New Year’s Eve quake, a 4.0, was the second within a week, and the 12th of 2011. And this wasn’t Los Angeles, this wasn’t San Francisco – this was Girard, Ohio, just north of Youngstown.

The cause for the quakes, according to a preliminary report from Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources: a deep injection well, where brine, fracking fluid and other drilling waste is deposited deep underground. It turns out the drillers were likely injecting the waste directly onto a previously-unknown fault line.

Immediate Suspicions

Bob Hagan also felt the December 31 earthquake. He thought his son had fallen down the stairs, moving a piece of furniture.  Hagan represents the Youngstown area in Ohio’s state House.

It didn’t take long for the Democrat to tie the quake to the Northstar 1 injection well, located on a site next to a steel mill. “Less than seconds,” Hagan recalled. “I am less than one mile from the injection well…and had been suspicious of it.”

Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources was suspicious too.

That’s because minor earthquakes had begun rattling the Youngstown area in March 2011, a few months after a company had started injecting brine, fracking fluid and other drilling waste deep underground into the well.

Ohio’s environmental officials suspected a connection and began investigating. In fact, they had shut down the Northstar 1 well down on December 30th, due to strong evidence the site was responsible for 11 minor quakes.

(Scroll down to the bottom of this story to read the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ preliminary report on the Youngstown earthquakes.)

Injection Wells Are Nothing New

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Youngstown's Northstar 1 well has been tied to 12 earthquakes

The earthquakes have brought increased scrutiny to Ohio’s deep well injection program.  These wells have been around for decades, and have absorbed more than 200 million barrels of oil and gas drilling waste since 1982, when Ohio began regulating the sites and tracking their intake. The wells are the EPA’s preferred way of disposing drilling fluid, and there are more than 144,000 across the country.

But the amount of fluid going into these wells has been increasing due to Pennsylvania’s shale drilling boom. Hydraulic fracturing uses a lot of water – about 4 million gallons a day during the height of the extraction process. That obviously generates a lot of waste. Up until a year ago, many western Pennsylvania drillers had been taking their brine and fracking fluid to municipal water treatment centers, which were filtering the fluid, and then dumping it into rivers.

After the drilling industry admitted the discharge was likely tied to elevated bromide levels in western Pennsylvania rivers, Governor Tom Corbett’s administration stopped the practice.

More drillers are treating and reusing their fracking fluid these days, but a lot of the waste that was going into the rivers is now trucked to Ohio. (Pennsylvania doesn’t have the geology to support many injection wells; there are fewer than ten in the Keystone State.)

On top of that, there’s simply more drilling going on in Pennsylvania. The amount of Pennsylvania drilling waste going to injection wells increased by 389 percent in the last six months of 2011, compared to the corresponding 2010 reporting period.

Ohio’s 177 injection wells absorbed 12 million barrels of waste last year, with about 20 percent coming from Pennsylvania. What’s in it for Ohio? The Buckeye State charges a higher per-barrel fee for out-of-state waste, and netted 1.5 million dollars from the practice last year.

“We Need To Address The Issue At Hand”

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

RC Pander explains his well's filtration process

RC Pander operates six wells in the Akron area. His company is more than 30 years old, and he’ll tell you his wells have never caused any earthquakes.

The company’s wellsl typically processes between 4,000 and 5,000 barrels of waste a day, taking fluid from tanker trucks, filtering it, and then injecting it underground. In 2011, this well took in 187,000 barrels of brine and fracking fluid from Pennsylvania drilling sites.

Pander plans on drilling more injection wells, as gas production in Ohio and Pennsylvania keeps ramping up. But Ohio has put an unofficial moratorium on injection well permits, as it investigates the Youngstown earthquakes. Pander said he’s frustrated by the move. “If you’ve got a car that has a problem with it, does that mean we should take the cars off the road and go back to horse and buggy? We need to address the issue at hand,” he said. “In this case we need to find out what’s going on with that well and take corrective action.”

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

The Pander 1 injection well

The Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources’ preliminary report on the Youngstown earthquakes  points out the Northstar well hadn’t violated any regulations.

“The company did nothing wrong,” said Rick Simmers, who heads ODNR’s Oil and Gas Division. “They constructed the well properly and they operated the well properly. If indeed we show a correlation, then it may be incredible bad luck that they chose a location and we permitted a location over what may be a previously unknown fault.”

It’s important to point out Ohio’s investigation of the quakes is still preliminary.  There’s more research needed on the exact link between the tremors and the drilling.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Rick Simmers regulates gas drilling at Ohio's Department of Natural Resources

Regardless, Simmers said the state is moving ahead with new regulation. It won’t let new wells drill as deep as the 9,000-foot Northstar well. That’s because the lower you go, the more powerful the rock formation can be, if it has a fault

Ohio will also require more tests before new wells are drilled, to make sure the ground is stable. ODNR has even purchased seismographs, to keep track of any future tremors.

Simmers said even after the Youngstown quakes, these injection wells are still the best way out there to get rid of drilling waste.  “If indeed [the Northstar 1 well] did cause the earthquake, the rarity of that kind of occurrence is so great,” he said. “And other methodologies can be used to help eliminate even that rare potential, that it’s still a very safe process.”

Diane Slender – the woman who was drying her hair during the earthquake – said she remains skeptical. “Everybody wants the jobs,” she said. “But then you have to worry about what comes with it …. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

Pennsylvania has more than two thousand shale wells in production, but Ohio’s drilling boom is only just beginning.

Gas extraction in Ohio’s Utica Shale is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. That means much more fluid will be shot into its injection wells.

Read the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Report:


  • Rod Bravender

    I have been trying to exspane why this Is happening for two years now. So lisen. The earth is like the human body. You add to mutch crap to it it going to burp. You drill on a horizonal line its going cave In. Thats your earthquack. Now add volitile gas to that youget rumble witch spreads the earthuack out. #2 THE Maconda well exsplosion modifide that. becaus now the gulf of Mexico the water Is heating up because the ensimes eat the air wile eating te oil witch cause volitile storms. And to add to that underground its heating up awakening Volcanos. My sujestion Is get my Presidental Order so I can fix the problem. If you don’t Its only going to get worse. And stop the horizonal drilling. Rod Bravender The Majestic Lion. ps I will help you If you Lisen.

    • rapier1

      Earthquack. I love it.

    • Enviro_geologist

      Rod   – I am a geologist and I can tell you as a professional, what youre saying is stupid, uneducated, dribble thats just wrong.

    • Alexander

      I can not even make any sense of what you are talking about.  I would suggest that the next time you have an idea just let it go…maybe run it by a 3rd grader for editing. 

  • Papa Lazo

    This is happening everywhere fracking is being carried out.  National Grid, the UK-based power supplier, now controls gas supplies throughout the Northeastern US, including those in New York City and Boston.  Last year, National Grid was fracking off the coast of Blackpool, England, and it triggered an earthquake on land. This is not a mystery.  This is happening everywhere.  The public must be made as aware as possible and begin sharing and pooling our information as it is becoming more apparent that utility companies do not care a whit for the public they serve.  Here’s more about what happened on the other side of the pond in Blackpool:

  • Emasler

    Rod may be speaking metaphorically but he’s got it right, the earth is a far more complex system than you geologists, who help bring us this fiasco, care to admit. Hydraulic fracturing and injection wells have been linked to earthquakes, water pollution, air pollution and even a volcano in Sidoarjo, East Java which has been erupting since 2006. It is far more honest to use hyperbole to express one’s fear for this sorry world than to use “science” to justify its destruction.

    • Zathras

      You’re going to take advice from someone who can’t spell “listen”?  Come on…

      • Maggie Henry

        you are an ass! Never made a typo? Must be nice to be perfect!

  • youdonknow

    It cracks me up how easily people substitute their normal cause-and-effect logic when their own money or livelihood is/might be the “cause”. It doesn’t take a geologist to say “well, we’ve had six earthquakes in six months, we’ve had so few in the past that we don’t even own a seismograph, but we shameless enough that we can’t admit that our lust for money has sold our own future down a river of drilling fluids.” What amazes me is that if we keep going with this “we need more research, first, before we stop”, what plan do any of the drilling companies and investors have for repairing the damage if indeed they are found to be responsible? Oh, that’s right – they’ll declare bankruptcy and leave any restitution to the government.
    Once again, governmen’t is held back from regulation, and then looked to to set everything straight again for all those people who are affected.

    America is selling itself out.

  • Coppola Chuck

    Hey, Ho. Way to go Ohio….

  • wvc1938

    “The Ohio’s Depart­ment of Nat­ural Resources’ pre­lim­i­nary report on
    the Youngstown earth­quakes  points out the North­star well hadn’t
    vio­lated any regulations.
    “The com­pany did noth­ing wrong,” said Rick Sim­mers, who heads ODNR’s Oil and Gas Divi­sion.”

    Isn’t it obvious that part of the problem is INADEQUATE REGULATION?  Sure, more, better regulation will increase the cost but that is as it should be – PAY THE DISPOSAL COSTS UP FRONT.  Obviously that ia better than dumping the cost on our children and their children.

  • The Sky is falling….

    Are they saying that the Appalachian mountains were formed by fracking?

  • Nazani14

    Why is this such a surprise?  In Europe quakes have been linked to geothermal power plants for years. At least the Europeans are getting clean energy and preserving clean water as part of the bargain.    

  • Sapphire Jones

    You can read this article   and see how the US Army Corps of Engineers confirmed deep well injection caused earthquakes back in 1967.  This isn’t a new discovery.  The industry just likes to play the lie and deny game.

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