Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Director James Zehringer announced that the Department will include tougher conditions in permits for horizontal drilling for oil and gas near faults or areas of past seismic activity. The new policy is a response to its investigation of recent seismic events in Poland Township, Mahoning County, Ohio which ODNR described as showing “a probable connection to hydraulic fracturing near a previously unknown microfault.” Tremors were felt in early March of this year in Poland Township near Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania. ODNR has since advised that its geologists believe that sand and water injected into the well during the hydraulic fracturing process may have increased pressure on an unknown microfault in the area.
Permit conditions applicable to new permits to drill issued by the Department would require companies to install sensitive seismic monitors for horizontal drilling within 3 miles of a known fault or area of seismic activity greater than 2.0 magnitude. 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 advises that it will also review previously issued permits involving wells that have not yet been drilled. Director Zehringer remarked that “[w]hile we can never be sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment. . . Not only will this reasonable course of action help to ensure public health and safety, but it will help us expand our underground maps and provide more information about all types of seismicity in Ohio.”
This is not the first time that ODNR has responded to seismic activity in Mahoning County. A series of earthquakes in Youngstown in 2011 caused ODNR to upgrade its regulations regarding the deep well injection of brine and other waste substances from oil and gas exploration, drilling, or production.