State officials recently confirmed that a 2016 earthquake in Lawrence County was the direct result of fracking operations being conducted in the area.
Last Saturday, Pennsylvania officials confirmed that a recent earthquake was the direct result of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” the first such earthquake to be documented in the state. The earthquake in question took place in Lawrence County last April, near the site of several wells operated by Texas-based energy company Hilcorp. Nearby seismic monitors detected five tremors at the time, ranging between 1.8 to 2.3 on the Richter scale. Though the quakes were insignificant – too faint to be felt on the surface – they have caused controversy for being the first fracking-induced earthquakes to ever have been recorded in the state. After the incident was recorded, Hilcorp immediately shut the well down. According to Hilcorp spokesman Justin Furnace, the company is reviewing these latest findings and has no immediate plans to resume work on the well responsible for the seismic activity.
As a result of the findings, the State’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is set to increase its requirements for drilling. However, Seth Pelepko of the DEP noted that the Hilcorp well was drilled much deeper than most, placing it much closer to the region’s “basement” rock than the typical fracking well. Despite Pelepko’s comment on the well’s unusual depth, it turns out that is not all that uncommon as more than 10,000 “unconventional” wells have been drilled in the Utica and Marcellus shales just within Pennsylvania over the last decade.
Pelepko also announced that the agency has set up what it called a “stop-light” procedure in partnership with Hilcorp whereby drilling operations will be shut down if earthquakes greater than 2.0 or three or more successive earthquakes between 1.5 and 1.9 occur. He argued that the system “allows for early detection and early response. Essentially everyone knows what they need to do next.”
While fracking-induced earthquakes are just being recognized in Pennsylvania, they have been widely observed in other states such as Ohio and Oklahoma. A recent study, published in Science, noted a massive spike in Oklahoma earthquakes due to the accelerated development of oil and gas wells over the past decade. While Oklahoma averaged between 1 to 3 earthquakes per year from 1975 to 2008, that number spiked to 40 in 2009 once the number of fracking wells began to accelerate. In 2014, a shocking 580 earthquakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater were detected in the state. Similarly, 77 small fracking-induced earthquakes were detected in 2014 just within the small Poland township of Ohio, just across the state line from Lawrence County, PA. These trends suggest that, despite the DEP’s best efforts, this recently confirmed fracking-induced earthquake is unlikely to be Pennsylvania’s last.
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