Concerning Earthquakes and Fracking

Buckeye Farm Beat

Several earthquakes in the Youngstown area in the last year have more to do with disposal than fracking.

Published on: April 4, 2012

Our neighbor came to the door recently to let us know a landowners group is being formed locally to negotiate leases for gas and oil well fracking -- should the opportunity present itself. I thought the shale formations of eastern Ohio had thinned out by the time they reached Fairfield County, but I have come to learn the Utica shale is present in our area and even further west. Recent reports indicate the drillers are finding plenty of gas in horizontal wells drilled into the Utica formation not far from us in Muskinghum County.

I want to get rich as much as the next guy, but have some concerns about our well water, our springs and our ponds. I am confident the leases can be written in such a way to protect your resources from those possibilities. One thing I was not so sure about was the potential for seismic activity produced by the fracking. For example media reports from the Youngstown area that fracking might have played a role in a series of earthquakes in the region a few months ago. Our 160-year-old home is constructed of what are called “mud bricks.” They were fired on the property and are very light and soft. So far they have held up fine. But I do wonder how much shaking it would take create some cracks or worse.

So I contacted our Nationwide agent to ask him if we were covered for earthquakes. He had no idea and sent me to a claims adjuster. The claims adjuster, in turn, suggested I contact my agent. When I told him I had just been there, he transferred my call to another agent specializing in earthquake claims. That agent wasn’t sure if Ohio offered earthquake and volcano insurance or not, but said she doubted that manmade activity would be considered a natural earthquake. She said my agent should know. So I am still working on that.

Meanwhile I checked with Dale Arnold at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. He noted that his home owner's insurance did include earthquakes, but said the insurance companies are now in the process of reviewing their policies in light of the new drilling technology. He also set me straight about the cause of the earthquakes in Youngstown and it was not the fracking process. The trigger was the pumping of waste brines into what’s a called a Class II injection well.

There are 177 such wells in Ohio and have been authorized by the state since 1983, Arnold says. He steered me to Jeffrey Dick, chairman of the Department of Geology and Environmental Sciences at Youngstown State University. The injection wells are at all sorts of depths he says. The one in Youngstown, which was immediately shut down, was injecting deep in the “Precambrian basement” more than 1 billion years old. It’s hard to tell where minor faults may lie and most likely it was one of these smaller faults which shifted when the brine was pumped in under high pressure, Dick says.

Ohio had 18 earthquakes last year according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Geological Survey Web site. Eleven of them were in Youngstown area including the most recent one in January. They were described as “small” and measured between 2 and 4. Dick says they are along the state’s most active fault line which runs from Akron to Suffield to Alliance to Salem. Like I said, I am still not sure if we are covered for earthquakes or not, but after a little investigation, I’ve decided it’s not something I am going to lose sleep over.