Monday, March 12, 2012

"frack job"

There's overwhelming evidence that the high pressure injection of wastewater critical to the fracking process actually triggered earthquakes in Ohio. The response? Officials are looking into promulgating tougher rules.

Tougher rules for creating earthquakes?? How about easing the rules for renewable energy deployment? (GW)

Wastewater injection well sparked earthquake -- Ohio officials

Mike Soraghan
E&E reporter

A series of earthquakes near Youngstown, Ohio, were most likely caused by the underground injection of shale drilling wastewater, Ohio officials have concluded.

"After investigating all available geological formation and well activity data, ODNR regulators and geologists found a number of co-occurring circumstances strongly indicating the Youngstown-area earthquakes were induced," the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said in a release today. "Specifically, evidence gathered by state officials suggests fluid from the Northstar 1 disposal well intersected an unmapped fault in a near-failure state of stress causing movement along that fault."

The state's report found the well connected to the earthquakes was positioned improperly because of a lack of regulator access to adequate geological data. New rules emphasized by state officials will require the driller to submit to the state a complete roll of geophysical logs.

"These logs were not available to inform regulators of the possible issues in geologic formations prior to well operation," the state's report said.

A magnitude-4.0 quake near the well on New Year's Day got national attention and widened unease about shale drilling in Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich (R) has promoted production as a "gold rush" (Greenwire, Jan. 5). The eastern part of the state sits atop the gas-rich Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale, which is emerging as a new potential source of gas liquids and oil.

The issue in the Youngstown quake is not drilling itself -- or the hydraulic fracturing production process -- but underground injection of brine.

Fracturing shale requires the use of millions of gallons of water, and subsequently creates millions of gallons of salty wastewater more toxic than what was initially fired down the hole. Drillers must figure out how to dispose of it. Some reuse part of it in the next "frack job," but they often inject it back underground in a deep disposal well.

Similar "underground injection" of brine from shale is believed to have caused earthquakes in Arkansas earlier this year. Oil and gas production itself has also caused earthquakes, most famously in Wilmington, Calif., where oil extraction caused earthquakes that stretched from 1947 to 1961.

The department's release today emphasized the new rules for underground injection over the confirmation that the earthquakes were caused by the injection well. The state's release called the new rules "among the nation's toughest."

The rules will require well operators to submit more comprehensive geological data when requesting a permit to drill, and the chemical makeup of all drilling wastewater must be tracked electronically, the Associated Press reported. Requiring well operators to submit more comprehensive geologic data is just one of the added regulations the department will either impose immediately or pursue through legislative or rule changes. Other changes include:

  • Future injection into Precambrian rock will be banned, and existing wells penetrating the formation will be plugged.
  • State-of-the-art pressure and volume monitoring will be required, including automatic shut-off systems.
  • Tracking systems that identify the makeup of all drilling wastewater fluids entering the state will also be required.

A Youngstown-area lawmaker criticized state officials for having moved too slowly amid the early earthquakes and called for the state to shut down the well owned by D&L Energy Inc., an independent oil and gas operator.

"Regulations are good and a step in the right direction," state Rep. Bob Hagan (D) told the Vindicator newspaper of Youngstown today. "I think it is time to shut down the D&L facility."

Scientists have known for years that injecting oil and waste underground causes such earthquakes. But it's not just oil and gas activity that makes the ground shake. More "earth-friendly" procedures, such as geothermal energy production and carbon sequestration, are also known to have set the earth rumbling.

A National Academy of Sciences panel is already studying how oil and gas production and other types of energy production can lead to man-made earthquakes. NAS officials are hoping to release that report this summer.

Nationally, U.S. EPA records show there are 150,851 "Class II" injection wells associated with oil and gas, and 177 of them are in Ohio. Underground injection is also used to dispose of radioactive waste, hazardous waste, mining fluids and carbon dioxide. There are about 500,000 other types of injection wells that dispose of nonhazardous waste.

In Pennsylvania, just across the border from Youngstown, state regulators under pressure from EPA have been pushing drillers not to send water to treatment plants that discharge into rivers. That means companies either reuse the water or ship it off for injection, and there are relatively few injection wells in Pennsylvania.

EPA, which oversees the injection program in Ohio, does not require states to look at earthquake potential when permitting underground injection wells for oil and gas waste.


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