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How serious are Ohio’s fracking induced earthquakes?

Ohio today announced tougher permits conditions for drilling near ‘faults and areas of seismic activity.’ I first read this in the Huffington Post who were of course MUCH more sensationalistic in their headline, stating fracking was causing earthquakes in Ohio. Dramatically, they announced that “State geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquake activity in the Marcellus Shale basin to hydraulic fracturing, confirming the suspicions of activists pushing for drilling limits in the interest of public health.

Serious stuff! But, drilling is not fracking – drilling is merely the conduit by which fluids are delivered into the rocks several miles down, which then ‘frack.’ Not all drilling leads to fracking. I had to find out more.

At first, since the Huffington Post article said ‘State Geologists’ – I went to the Ohio Geological Survey website – seemed logical to me. I wanted to see this news for myself! I was a bit disappointed – there appeared to be no news released on fracking recently.

However, I did find a most informative Fact Sheet on fracking in Ohio which included all sorts of juicy titbits like fracking has been happening in Ohio for FORTY YEARS!!! Immediately, I did not feel like this was a crisis of indescribable proportions. In addition, the fracking was taking place at depths of 5000-8000ft – that’s more than a mile down (or approximately 1.6-2 km down for the metric reader). If I lived in Ohio, I would feel comforted that that was below the water table my drinking water was coming from and just generally, a long way down.

But how strong were these earthquakes? The repository of useless information in my brain said most ‘earthquakes’ due to fracking tended to measure less than 3 on the Richter scale, which means we can’t feel them at all as we go about our daily business.

In addition, I have strong suspicions that there have been many seismographs recording activity in Ohio for many, many decades and most earthquakes measuring 1-2 or even 3 tend to go by unpublicised because Ohio is located near enough to some pretty big faults in neighbouring States, that there will always be microquakes. How many have been fracking related? Who wants to guess no one bothered to tie miroquakes to moments of fracking prior to the recent public uproar in recent years?!

Anyway, ironically, I had to go to the source article itself to find the strength of these earthquakes. It wasn’t the Geological Survey of Ohio that had issued the news release, but the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas. So how dramatic is it? From reading this article:

  • The new permitting conditions were in response to seismic events in Poland Township (Mahoning County) that show a probable connection to hydraulic fracturing near a previously unknown microfault.
  • New seismic monitors would monitor for any seismic activity above 1.0 on the Richter scale and all drilling activity for 3 miles around the fault would stop until the source was identified
  • The authorities admitting, ‘they can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event,’ (but are taking steps to preserve the environment and public health)
  • More than 800 wells have been drilled into this geological formation
  • Over 16,000 fracking stages have been completed from these wells (16,000!!!)
  • Ohio began to systematically record seismic activity in 1999 (OK, not as long as I thought, but I’m still willing to bet universities and the geological survey had some – just not enough to triangulate on the source of earthquakes or a system in place to triangulate)
  • There have been 109 seismic events over 2.0 on the Richter Scale since Ohio became organised about recording the seismic activity in its state.

So. Let me get this straight – there has been 40 years of fracking in Ohio, the fracking is taking place at depths of 1-2km, since 1999, there have only been 109 earthquakes over 2.0 on the Richter scale (which means you and I don’t feel them) – and of those 109, a smaller unknowable amount possibly  in Poland Township, AND (deep breath) the authorities weren’t 100% sure that fracking was causing any of the earthquakes, let alone doing any serious damage to the environment and public health???

Is it just me, but doesn’t this seem like a gross over-reaction by officials in Poland Township creating a lot of unnecessary red tape pandering to the ignorant fears of the public out of their own fear of not getting re-elected in the next local elections???!! Please feel free to leave comments below!

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