Fracking at Hilcorp Well When Quakes Occurred
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Hilcorp Energy Co. was in the process of hydraulically fracturing a well at one of its Carbon Limestone pads in Poland Township when a series of earthquakes rattled the area Monday, a spokesman from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirms.
Mark Bruce, a public affairs officer for ODNR, says a "stimulation operation" was underway at one of the Hilcorp wells when the quakes occurred Monday. Whether frack fluid was being injected into the well at the precise time of the quakes is unknown, he noted.
"There's a lot of data to gather and review," Bruce said on Tuesday. "They're [Hilcorp] are providing us with information, and we got some in today."
ODNR issued an order halting all drilling operations Monday after four earthquakes – one that measured 3.0 on the Richter scale – shook the Lowellville, Poland and Boardman area (READ STORY). A fifth smaller quake that registered just 2.1 occurred around 3 a.m. Tuesday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
All of the quakes' epicenters were near Hilcorp's two Carbon Limestone well pads in Poland Township, USGS maps show. The first earthquake was strong enough to shake neighbors' houses, but there were no reports of injuries or damage.
Bruce says Hilcorp has complied with all of ODNR's requests and is cooperating fully with the agency. "They're a very willing partner," Bruce adds. All activity at the site will be suspended until the information is evaluated and reviewed, he said, noting he doesn't know how long that process will take.
A statement issued by ODNR on Monday underscored that it was still "premature" to determine what caused the tremors.
Members of FrackFree Mahoning Valley, an opposition group that seeks to ban fracking inside city limits, will hold a press conference "to address the latest information, implications, and concerns regarding important issues for our community." Geologist Ray Beiersdorfer,, Ph.D., professor of geology at Youngtown State Univrsity, is expected to "to provide the lastest scientific information that he has gathered about the five earthquakes," according to a media advisory.
Hydraulic fracturing is a process used during the completion phase of a well. The procedure involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and a mixture of chemicals under high pressure in order to fracture tightly packed shale rock thousands of feet below the earth, unleashing pockets of natural gas and oil. The process is performed in phases along the well's horizontal lateral, which could extend more than a mile in length.
Hilcorp has drilled seven wells at the Carbon Limestone site, is completing an eight well, and has permits for four more horizontal wells there.
In 2011, the Mahoning Valley was rocked by earthquakes that were tied to the operation of a wastewater injection well operated by now-defunct D&L Energy. An earthquake Dec. 31 of that year registered a magnitude of 4.0.
There are no injection wells at the Carbon Limestone pad, and most studies in the United States have found a relationship between deep injection wells and seismic activity, but not the practice of hydraulic fracturing.
A study in British Columbia, Canada, however concluded that hydraulic fracturing was the culprit behind a flurry of small earthquakes detected in the Horn River Basin between 2009 and 2011.
The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission said in its report that "the events observed within remote and isolated areas of the Horn River Basin between 2009 and 2011 were caused by fluid injection during hydraulic fracturing in proximity to pre-existing faults."
Still, wastewater injection wells have been tied to earthquake activity across the country, especially in Oklahoma and Texas, where shale exploration activity has hit a fevered pitch.
According to a study conducted by the USGS, underground disposal of drilling wastewater triggered the largest earthquake ever measured in the state, a 5.7-magnitude quake that hit Prauge in 2011 that destroyed 14 homes.
And, on Monday, the same day of the Poland Township quakes, several earthquakes hit the Stillwater, Oklahoma region.
"In Oklahoma, there's been a 200% increase in earthquake activity since they've been drilling there," says state Rep. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, who favors a ban on injection wells in Ohio.
He emphasizes that he's not sure what caused the Poland Township quakes, but noted, "I do know that it's clear injection wells cause earthquakes. At this point, there's no evidence that it was caused by drilling."
However, Hagan is not pleased with ODNR, saying that the agency has ignored his attempts to meet with them. "They release more to the press than the legislators," he lamented. "I'm looking to talk with them and see what they know." He also noted that ODNR has placed him on what's been deemed an "enemies list" of those who have taken a stance against policies adopted by the oil and gas industry in Ohio.
The legislator has stated many times that he favors a ban on injection wells across the state until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finishes its report on hydraulic fracturing and its potential impact on drinking water, and the impact of the disposal of drilling wastewater.
"We're still waiting on it," Hagan says, noting that the report was supposed to be finished last year, but now is expected sometime in 2014.
"It's frustrating," Hagan says. "If it's safe, let's do it. If it's not safe, let's not do it."
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