The domestic energy boom in the U.S. could slow down considerably if officials listen to some geologists from Ohio.
Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) said the state is now imposing new, stronger permit conditions for drilling near faults or areas of past seismic activity. The new policies are in response to the finding of geologists researching recent seismic events in northeastern Ohio that show a probable connection to hydraulic fracturing near a previously unknown ‘microfault’.
New permits issued by ODNR for horizontal drilling within 3 miles of a known area of seismic activity greater than a 2.0 magnitude will now require companies to install seismic monitors. If those monitors detect a seismic event in excess of 1.0 magnitude, activities would pause while the cause is investigated. If the investigation reveals a probable connection to the hydraulic fracturing process known as 'fracking', all well completion operations will be suspended. What does that mean for other states?
ODNR says it will develop new criteria and permit conditions for new applications in light of this change in policy. The department will also review previously issued permits that have not been drilled.
History seems to show the logic behind the tighter permitting requirements. The Columbus Dispatch says that from 1950 to 2009, Ohio experienced an average of two earthquakes a year greater than 2.0 magnitude, according to a Columbus Dispatch analysis based on data from ODNR. After 2010, when fracking operations began rapidly popping up across the state, the quake count jumped to an average of nine per year.
From 1970 to 2000, there were about 20 earthquakes recorded of 3.0 magnitude or higher each year, but in 2010 through 2012, the average rose to 100 earthquakes of 3 or greater annually, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,” said ODNR Director James Zehringer.
The conclusion drawn by Ohio’s geologists is likely to make waves in Texas, Oklahoma, California and any other states where fracking is suspected to cause earthquakes. For those states concerned about seismic activity one suspects it would be wise to follow ODNR’s lead. Anything less could invite a frenzy of litigation.