From: Kim Palmer, Reuters, CLEVELAND
Published January 3, 2012 07:17 AM

Ohio suspends fracking-related well operations after earthquakes

Ohio has suspended operations at five deep wells used to dispose of fracking-related fluids after nearly a dozen earthquakes in the town of Youngstown over the past year, the latest sign of local unease over the booming shale gas industry.


One day after a 4.0 quake, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said on Sunday it was halting operations at five Mahoning County wells owned by Northstar Disposal Services LLC as a precaution, citing concerns of a possible link between well activity and the quakes. The wells were used to store wastewater from oil and gas drilling operations, not for production.

"We are being overly cautious in order to ensure public safety in asking the company to halt disposal injections at one site on Friday and then asking for a halt to any injections in a 5-mile radius Saturday," Ohio Department of Natural Resources deputy director Andy Ware said.

"Our geologist would say there is a strong chance there is a fault line very close to the site of the well," Ware said, adding the department was concerned that pressure from the fluid disposal could be affecting a previously unknown fault line.

Ohio's decision comes amid an intensifying debate about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, the process of extracting oil or natural gas from shale rocks by drilling miles deep wells and injecting thousands of gallons of water to flush out natural gas deposits trapped in between its layers.

While much of the focus has been on the risk that toxic fluids may contaminate drinking water, local fears about low-level seismic activity have also grown.

Early last year, an area of Arkansas experienced a series of small earthquakes which were said to have been linked to injecting wastewater underground as a byproduct of gas drilling. In July, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission voted to ban wells for the disposal of natural gas drilling fluids in the area.

Photo shows Marcellus Shale Drilling Rig in Pennsylvania(Credit: Laurie Barr/Wikipedia) from WOSU NPR.

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