With 2011 in the rearview, businesses all over the country are looking forward to fresh start in 2012. But the opportunity to start fresh will elude natural gas producers partaking in hydraulic fracturing operations, as recent events in Ohio have caused additional uproar concerning the practice. On December 30, 2011, Ohio state officials ordered the indefinite closure of a fluid-injection well in Eastern Ohio. The injection well, which is 9,200 feet deep and used for the disposal of used hydraulic fracturing fluids, was shut following a series of low-level seismic events in the area.
During the eight months preceding the closure, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) recorded ten seismic events within two miles of the well. None of the seismic events registered above a magnitude of 2.7 (the threshold for surface damage is generally considered to be 4.0). The ODNR acknowledged that there is no clear and direct correlation to drilling at the site of the injection well and seismic activity. Nevertheless, the mere presence of the seismic activity was enough for Ohio officials to take action in light of the relatively low frequency of seismic activity traditionally occurring in the area. Thus, the well was closed. Then, on December 31, 2011, a 4.0 magnitude earthquake struck the area. That prompted the Director of the ODNR and Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is a supporter of oil and gas exploration and spearheaded the opening of Ohio’s state parks and other public lands to hydraulic fracturing operations in 2011, to halt the planned opening of four nearby injection wells indefinitely.
Scientists have opined that the cause of the seismic activity could be that some of the wastewater injected into the well may have migrated into deeper rock formations, allowing an ancient fault to slip . While similar links between disposal wells and earthquakes have been suspected in Arkansas and Texas, this issue is the first of its kind in Ohio.
The events in Ohio represent yet another blow to hydraulic fracturing operations and may be representative of a tough year for the industry in 2012.