Today, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced there was enough information from the minor seismic event in Mahoning County on March 10th to justify new rules on well stimulation activity in the state. A strictly cautionary measure, ODNR’s new, stronger permit conditions place significant restrictions on developing shale resources near known fault areas or areas with past seismic activity. The new restrictions include both new and previously issued but non developed permits .
“New permits issued by ODNR for horizontal drilling within 3 miles of a known fault or area of seismic activity greater than a 2.0 magnitude would require companies to install sensitive seismic monitors. If those monitors detect a seismic event in excess of 1.0 magnitude, activities would pause while the cause is investigated. If the investigation reveals a probable connection to the hydraulic fracturing process, all well completion operations will be suspended. ODNR will develop new criteria and permit conditions for new applications in light of this change in policy. The department will also review previously issued permits that have not been drilled.”
It is important to note that these types of seismic events are extremely rare, and this particular event caused no structural damage or injury. Moving forward, the safeguards put into place by ODNR will help prevent events such as this one from occurring in Ohio.
The seismic event last month registered a 3.0 magnitude, which is considered a minor seismic event in the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, although it was felt by some neighbors near the epicenter of the event. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, many people may not even recognize a 3.0 seismic event as an earthquake; the agency compares the vibrations associated with a 3.0 event to a truck passing by your house.
The low magnitude of this seismic event follows the conclusions of the experts from the National Research Council:
“Historically known induced seismicity [related to hydraulic fracturing] has generally been small in both magnitude and intensity of ground shaking.”(National Research Council study “Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies”, p.5)
Induced seismicity is not a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to the oil and gas industry. Dam impoundments, controlled explosions connected to mining and construction as well as geothermal activities have all been linked to small magnitude seismic events since the 1920s.
Many activists will take this announcement as a call to action to ban hydraulic fracturing, as they have in the past. But rather than overreact to hyper-inflated claims of calamity, it is important to focus on concrete, scientific analysis to put this event into perspective. As Stanford geophysicist (and former Obama Energy Department advisor) Mark Zoback has said:
“A large body of evidence suggests that the state of stress and pore pressure are often not far from the critical conditions where a small destabilizing perturbation of the stress and/or of the pore pressure could cause a critically oriented fault to slip” (Zoback and Zoback, 1980, 1989).
The majority of Ohio (and indeed the entire United States) does not fall under these parameters. The truth is after numerous studies and research, experts have concluded the risk from hydraulic fracturing inducing felt seismic events is extremely rare. Out of the 275,000 total wells and the 836 Utica and Marcellus Shale wells already developed in the state of Ohio, this is the first such incident to occur.
Indeed, according to a report from Durham University that specifically examined hydraulic fracturing and seismicity titled “Induced Seismicity and Hydraulic Fracturing for the Recovery of Hydrocarbons,” the probability of such an event is extremely remote.
“It should be noted, however, that after hundreds of thousands of fracturing operations, only three examples of felt seismicity have been documented. The likelihood of inducing felt seismicity by hydraulic fracturing is thus extremely small but cannot be ruled out.” (p.18, emphasis added)
The Durham University is not alone in their findings. Cliff Frohlich, Associate Director of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas at Austin came to the same conclusion from one of his studies in the Eagle Ford Shale region.
“Although there is a considerable amount of hydraulic fracturing activity in the Eagle Ford, we don’t see a strong signal associated with that and earthquakes.”
The National Research Council has examined hydraulic fracturing, geothermal, Class II well injection and carbon capture storage in the context of seismicity, and the researchers concluded:
“The process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.”
The parameters set forth by ODNR in regards to mitigating seismic activity will help maintain the public’s confidence in Ohio’ strong and robust regulatory structure:
“These additional standards add even more strength to Ohio’s already comprehensive regulatory program,” said Mike Paque, Executive Director of the Groundwater Protection Council. “State regulators are taking an aggressive lead in tackling tough and complicated oil and gas issues and ODNR is no exception.”
Oil and natural gas production has been a dynamic industry for 150 years, with constant technological innovation and frequent regulatory enhancements being the norm over that period. ODNR’s actions today are a continuation of that process.