Over the weekend, residents near Youngstown, Ohio, were jarred once more. This time it was a 4.0 earthquake, the 11th since mid-March. Ohio officials have ordered an indefinite suspension of fracking (also known as the fluid-injection well technique or hydraulic fracturing) at four nearby sites. Before drilling resumes, the Ohio officials said, more should be learned about a possible connection between earthquakes and fracking.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an “injection well is a device that places fluid deep underground into porous rock formations, such as sandstone or limestone, or into or below the shallow soil layer.” The result for drillers is a loosening of previously unreachable natural gas deposits. As instances of fracking have increased so have the number of natural gas wells in the Unites States, going from 17,500 in 2000 to 33,000 in 2008, according to ProPublica.
Yet, a nagging trend of earthquakes seems to accompany fracking’s mineral and financial wealth. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas have most prominently seen a spike in earthquakes following extensive use of fracking. In the wake of Saturday’s quake in Youngstown, Ohio state geologist Michael C. Hansen told the Akron Beacon there was “little doubt” of the connection between drilling and the temblor.
“In our minds, we were already pretty convinced that these events were connected to the well,” John Armbruster of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory told The New York Times. “Having that many earthquakes fairly close to a well in Ohio, where there aren’t a lot of earthquakes, was suspicious.”
If science can more forcefully establish a connection between fracking and earthquakes, it will be but one more trial for this industry. The EPA and independent scientific inquiry have established a link between injection wells and tainted groundwater. Those wishing for a relatively inexpensive and consequence-free source of domestic energy will have to keep on wishing.