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April 18, 2014

Pennsylvania won’t take action following Ohio ruling on quakes, fracking

NEW CASTLE — Pennsylvania officials plan no action despite new Ohio rules on drilling that affect a seismically active area near the state line.

The new regulations, issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources last week, require companies to install sensitive seismic monitors for new gas and oil drilling within three miles of “a known fault or area of seismic activity greater than 2.0 magnitude."

If the monitors detect seismic activity greater than 1.0 magnitude, activity would halt and the cause would be investigated. If the investigation reveals a probable connection to the hydrolic fracturing, or “fracking” process, all “well completion operations” would be suspended.

ODNR geologists believe the sand and water injected into the ground at a Hilcorp Energy Co. well in Poland Township, Ohio, “may have increased pressure on an unknown microfault in the area," and may have ties to multiple earthquakes, ranging in magnitude from 2.1 to 3.0, that hit the area in March.

But across the border in Pennsylvania, Morgan Wagner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said because the state “has no history of seismic events related to drilling, fracking or disposal wells,” the DEP “does not believe that there is enough information about the Ohio incident to relate hydraulic fracturing to an increased potential for earthquakes in Pennsylvania.”

Drilling remains suspended at the Hilcorp wellpad in Poland Township, but production on already-drilled wells continues there. According to the ODNR, production is expected to reduce underground pressure and decrease the likelihood of another earthquake.

The site is just across the state line from Mahoning Township in Pennsylvania, where Hilcorp also has several wellpads planned.

Hilcorp said it is reviewing Ohio’s new rules.

While the company determines how they will impact the Ohio operations, “... we remain fully committed to public safety and acting in a manner consistent with being a good corporate citizen in the communities where we operate.”

James Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said, “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.

Wagner added, “We are, however, monitoring Ohio’s situation and have the authority to shut down any well at any time if concerns were to develop.”

A seismologist with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation confirmed the finding is the first in the region to suggest a connection between the quakes and actual extraction of oil and gas as opposed to wastewater disposal.

 

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