Energy. Environment. Economy.

Spate of small earthquakes shuts down fracking activity in Lawrence County

In this Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 photo, a fracking wastewater storage facility sits just outside the city limits of Reno, Texas. With real-time monitors, scientists have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection. In 84 days from November 2013 to January 2014, this area shook with 27 magnitude 2 or greater earthquakes.

LM Otero / AP Photo

In this Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 photo, a fracking wastewater storage facility sits just outside the city limits of Reno, Texas. With real-time monitors, scientists have linked a swarm of small earthquakes west of Fort Worth, Texas, to nearby natural gas wells and wastewater injection.

A series of five small earthquakes within the space of 24 hours in Lawrence County, near the Ohio border, has led to the shutdown of nearby fracking operations. The earthquakes range in magnitude from 1.69 on the richter scale to 1.91, which are small and typically not felt on the surface. The quakes occurred just after midnight on Monday in the vicinity of Mahoning Township, with the last one registered at 10:10 PM the same day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Neil Shader says Hilcorp Energy shut down their operation on Tuesday and the DEP is investigating whether the string of small quakes were caused by fracking.

Penn State professor Andrew Nyblade says there is a correlation, in space and time, between the quakes and the fracking operation, but a causal link has not yet been established.

“These are the first seismic events that have been correlated to fracking [in Pennsylvania],” said Nyblade. “That’s not to say this hasn’t happened before.”

One of Nyblade’s graduate students, Kyle Homman, recently completed research and wrote his thesis on seismicity in the state, and did not find evidence linking earthquakes to oil and gas activity. The study spanned 23 months, from February 2013 to December, 2014. Nyblade says the research located more than 1500 “seismic events,” and linked them to blasting activities at coal mines and quarries. He says there were about 10 earthquakes not linked to mining activity.

Earthquakes caused by fracking are rare. It’s more common to see earthquakes result from the disposal of oil and gas waste water through deep injection wells, such as the recent spate of  earthquake activity in Oklahoma. Last month, the U.S.G.S published a forecast of natural and human induced earthquakes across the nation. Pennsylvania showed no threat of any significant quakes. The U.S.G.S also said fracking is not the major cause of human induced earthquakes.

But a series of small earthquakes two years ago in Poland Township, Ohio, which is about nine miles west of the area where the five earthquakes were registered on Monday, were linked to fracking. Those quakes also resulted from activity by the same company that recently halted operations in Lawrence County, Hilcorp Energy.  A company spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

The study published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, and authored by professors at Ohio’s Miami University, found that 77 earthquakes that occurred within a week in March, 2014 were “closely related spatially and temporally to active hydraulic fracturing operations.”  Earthquakes Induced by Hydraulic Fracturing in Poland Township, Ohio, published in in the Bulletin in February, 2015, concluded that the fracking activity caused a previously unknown fault in the basement rock, below the area of fracture, to slip, resulting in the quakes.

“We identified earthquakes as small as local magnitudes (ML) ∼1 up to 3, potentially one of the largest earthquakes induced by hydraulic fracturing in the United States,” wrote the paper’s authors.

David Yoxtheimer, from Penn State’s Marcellus Center for Outreach and Education, says it’s not unusual for Pennsylvania to experience earthquakes that are less than 2.0. He says it’s common for the gas industry to detect micro-seismic events when fracking, which they use to determine how far the fracture has traveled from the well bore.

“When you think you have something greater than 2 or 3,” Yoxtheimer said, “it would suggest that there may be a fault that had some minor movement along that fault, which would then translate into a higher magnitude seismic event.”

Yoxtheimer says he calculated that the Hilcorp well pads, which are under the name of North Beaver NC Development include wells 7H, 9H, 10H and 12H, and are located between 6700 and 9700 feet from the epicenters of the quakes.

Penn State has been contracted by the state to install 30 seismic monitors as part of a project to establish a baseline for seismic activity, and determine if any is caused by oil and gas activity, as well as mining. The Department of Environmental Protection as well as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will coordinate a total of 42 new monitors across Pennsylvania, where real time information on earthquakes will be publicly available.

Andrew Nyblade is leading Penn State’s efforts to place them on campuses and in state parks.

“The DCNR and DEP get kudos for supporting a network like this with open access to the data,” said Nyblade. “That’s not the case in other states.”

Nyblade will be leading a webinar on the project next month.


  • Tim

    When will those on “Power” wise up? Gov. Wolf are you paying attention?

  • crystalpoint

    Hey Penn State professor Andrew Nyblade! I am (75) years old Today, and remember as a kid, earthquakes here in Williamsport Pa.,over 60 years ago, long before Fracking was ever developed! There are thousands of earthquakes around the World everyday, where no Fracking occurs! Why don’t you and your students, go back to school, or a College that may have a better understanding then you do, of the subject?

    Here you and your students are, attacking your own University, who basically started the Fracking industry here in Pennsylvania,I do not need to give you the professors name at Penn State, who started it all! Stick that in your pipe, and smoke it!

    Finally, I assume that the earthquakes that happened here in Williamsport, over 60 years ago, were caused by Steam Locomotives, or George Bush?

    Ray P. Smith, Sr

  • Fracked

    A very high up, former official here in PA stated that the geology of PA would not withstand the use of injection wells. Now it seems there is an issue with the fracking process. Maybe PA will initiate a “study” starting sometime in the future? Another study after that one could be safe distance from pipeline? Then we could do one on safe distance from a gas well, compressor station or waste pits?

  • crystalpoint

    My response to you was not meant to offend you! But again I want to respond to Penn State professor Andrew Nyblade, regarding potential earthquakes in western Pennsylvania. More specifically, his allegations, that, Fracking was responsible for this last specific case!

    Don’t get me wrong, I am for a very unbiased investigation into the case at hand, as to weather Fracking at this location was responsible for this accident and tragedy? However, I am very concerned about the thousands of people, and so called experts,around the world, who preach your doctrine everyday, based upon no concrete scientific evidence, to prove such! And all the mumble jumbo that people give out to the media, which most of all, is on a whim or opinions that scare the public, around the globe!

    Let me get to the bottom line again, which is a point I tried to make in my first email too you! As you know, there are thousands of earthquake zones, throughout the world that scientists know of, some active, and others waiting to blow! Its only a matter of time before there is a very serious eruption somewhere in our Continent, which cannot be blamed on Fracking for, Natural Gas! We experts know that, what causes these earthquakes is the, shifting of the “plates” deep with in the earth! Those events are is a natural occurrence, and not man made! In the area we speak about, this earthquake zone, from this area, is not one which will ever be more than 3.4 on the Richter-scale! Of course an earthquake of this magnitude, can, rupture a pipeline, which we found out from this incidence!

    Turning now to my background, I own a museum quality, quartz crystal. mine, here in Pennsylvania, which was thoroughly studied by Penn State Geology department in the early Nineties! (entitled Natural HYDRAULIC Fracturing In The Bald Eagle Sandstone In Central Pennsylvania And The Ithaca Siltstone At Watkins Glen, New, York) Which is a “Thesis in Geo-sciences By Alfred Julian Lacazette, Jr.” I learned a lot about this location from Alfred’s study! One significant thing was, that this crystal deposit, was, pushed here by one of the big Ice ages and the earth that covered the mine, was, once the Southern tip of South Africa! One thing I am not certain about is, was it a massive earthquake, that started this whole process? When Alfred students and his professor was here at my mine site, in doing his Thesis at my mine, in the early nineties, the mime originally was, simply an open trench, about fifteen feet in depth, and samples of crystals were taken from various crevices and fissures. With pieces of crystal scattered across a field of several acres of ground, and many of the points of the crystal were damaged by the earth moving along with rocks when one, or perhaps other Ice shifts which occurred, over millions of years. No one from Penn State has concluded this, since I dug straight down in the earth some fifty to 75 feet after Alfred concluded his stay here! What I found was, a vertical shaft going straight down into the earth, finding museum quality quartz clusters that had grown in soft red clay, undamaged from the original Ice Shift. Many samples are located at the Penn State Mineral Museum! The vertical shaft going down into the earth, in my view is a Geo thermal shaft traveling perhaps several miles into the earth?

    Finally,I have told you all of the above to prove a point, give you my opinion, that, I have that a massive earthquake, may have caused the Ice to move this earth to Central Pa! Further, the most recent earthquake in western Pa.,was not a major earthquake, but simply a very small disturbance, which is going to happen around the face of the earth many times! We all may be in-store for the “Big One” which could wipe a lot of us off the earth, and man does not have this answer, and never will!

    Sincerely, Ray P. Smith, Sr.

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