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April 15, 2014

Pennsylvania won’t take action on quakes

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

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 “fracking” process, all “well completion operations” would be suspended.

The ODNR geologists believe that the sand and water injected into a Hilcorp Energy Co. well in Poland Township, Ohio, during the fracking process “may have increased pressure on an unknown microfault in the area.” Drilling remains suspended at the Hilcorp wellpad in Poland Township, where five low-magnitude earthquakes were recorded in early March, but production on already-drilled wells continues there. The ODNR stated the 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.

But in Pennsylvania, Morgan Wagner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said Monday that 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.”

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.”

The Ohio Oil and Gas Association, which noted it represents 3,200 members in the crude oil and gas drilling industry in that state, said it will review the ODNR recommendations “but will only support measures based on sound, scientific principles and practicality.”

The association’s executive vice president, Thomas E. Stewart, noted his organization believes the seismic activity experienced in Poland Township “was a rare and isolated event that should not cast doubt about the safety of hydraulic fracturing ...”

He also said that technological advances greatly “increased our knowledge of potential seismicity and fault lines” but it is “not always a precise science.”

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.

(Email: grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com)

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