State officials shut down a fracking operation in northeastern Ohio Monday after two earthquakes were felt in Mahoning County. Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials say the order was a precaution and that the temblors - felt in Poland Township and the village of Lowellville near the Pennsylvania border - were not related to area waste-injection wells, one of which was tied to earthquakes near Youngstown in 2011.
State officials shut down a fracking operation in northeastern Ohio Monday after two earthquakes were felt in Mahoning County.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials say the order was a precaution and that the temblors — felt in Poland Township and the village of Lowellville near the Pennsylvania border — were not related to area waste-injection wells, one of which was tied to earthquakes near Youngstown in 2011.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we notified the only oil and gas operator in the area and ordered them to halt all operations until further assessment can take place,” Mark Bruce, an ODNR spokesman, said in a statement.
A magnitude 3.0 quake was reported at 2:26 a.m. and a magnitude 2.6 at 11:45 a.m. yesterday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The location was just south of Youngstown, near a seven-well fracking operation.
Texas-based Hilcorp Energy operates the wells on 2,200 acres at the Carbon Limestone Landfill in Lowellville. One of the wells is active and produces natural gas.
Fracking is a process in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped deep into the ground to shatter shale and free trapped oil and gas.
Monday’s earthquakes were felt by some of the 1,100 residents of Lowellville, said village fire chief Al Boggia.
“Not a lot of complaints, but people felt it. It stirred people up,” he said.
Hilcorp officials cautioned that no one is saying that the fracking operation in Lowellville and the earthquakes are related.
“It is far too early in the process to know exactly what happened, and we are not aware of any evidence to connect our operations to these events,” the company said in a statement.
Bruce, the ODNR spokesman, cautioned that the investigation could be slow. Investigations into a fracking waste-injection well near Youngstown and earthquakes there took a significant amount of time.
Hundreds of wells have been drilled in Utica shale across the eastern part of the state without incident, according to Hilcorp, which said that public safety is a priority.
Hilcorp has drilled wells on the Carbon Limestone Landfill for two years, said Mike Heher, division manager for the landfill. He said there have been no issues.
There has been trouble, however, with at least one injection well in the region.
In January 2012, the state halted the disposal of oil and gas waste in injection wells within a 5-mile radius of a Youngstown well that was connected to a series of earthquakes in 2011. At first, the state said there was no connection between injection wells and the temblors.
During the fracking process, some of the fluids bubble back up with the gas. Oil and gas wells also produce saltwater contaminated with metals and radioactive materials trapped underground for millions of years.
That waste often is injected into deep wells. At the time of the Youngstown earthquakes, there were 177 active waste-injection wells. Now, there are more than 188, and more being drilled.
State safety standards forbid new disposal wells from being drilled to a layer of crystalline “ basement rock,” which has been determined to create a risk for earthquakes.
Disposal wells also cannot be drilled to a layer of sandstone just above that basement layer until the state monitors the area with seismometers.
The flow of fracking waste into Ohio began in 2011 after Pennsylvania oil and gas regulators ordered businesses to stop dumping the waste in that state’s streams.