A dozen earthquakes in northeastern Ohio were almost certainly caused by the injection of gas-drilling wastewater (also commonly referred to as fracking fluids) into the earth, state regulators said recently, according to a report by Huffington Post.
Ohio officials announced new rules for gas drillers as a result of the finding. Well operators must now submit more comprehensive geological data when requesting a drill site, and the chemical makeup of all drilling wastewater must be tracked electronically.
The state Department of Natural Resources announced the tough new brine injection regulations because of the report's findings on the well in Youngstown, which it said were based on "a number of coincidental circumstances." For one, investigators said, the well began operations just three months ahead of the first quake.
They also noted that the seismic activity, which began in March 2011 and ended at the end of the year, was clustered around the well bore, and reported that a fault has since been identified in the rock layer where water was being injected.
Municipal water treatment plants aren't designed to remove some of the contaminants found in the wastewater, including radioactive elements. Deep injection is considered one of the safest methods for disposal, though earthquakes - most very small but some, like in Youngstown, large enough to be felt - have been linked to such methods.
Drillers in Pennsylvania sent almost 1.5 million barrels of waste to injection wells in Ohio during the second half of 2011, said Kevin Sunday, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
The state's report validates concerns among environmentalists that Ohio is moving too fast, said Jed Thorp, manager of the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club. "This proves that we need to have data and research and regulations in place before these activities begin. The problem here is that they let everybody go over there and start punching holes in the ground before there was data and adequate research," he said. "So now we're in a position of having to create regulations after the fact. That's really a backward way to do it."
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