Confirmation by Ohio officials that fracking caused several low-level earthquakes near the Lawrence County border warrants attention.
Yet it’s by no means clear that Pennsylvania is responding appropriately.
In Ohio, the discovery has prompted new rules that will halt future drilling activities at sites with faults or where quakes are recorded.
Ohio’s new rules will not prevent drilling and fracking. Instead, they are designed to provide a layer of public protection over a process that apparently can produce unanticipated results.
In the case of the drilling operation near Lowellville, it’s believed a previously unknown fault was affected by fracking in the Utica shale layer. That’s what led to a series of small earthquakes. The fracking operation was halted after the quakes to allow the state to investigate, and the conclusion that the events were connected resulted in a permanent ban on activity at that particular well.
For the most part, drilling and fracking in Ohio will continue as planned. It’s obvious that most of these operations do not produce earthquakes, and the quakes that have been reported are not large enough to cause damage. For the most part, people didn’t even notice them.
But what would happen if Ohio had ignored the quakes, allowing the fracking to proceed and stronger shocks were felt?
There is considerable controversy where shale gas drilling is concerned. Companies involved in the process argue that it is safe and proper environmental precautions are taken. However, they cannot accurately determine the impact of fracking on an undiscovered fault.
The Lowellville incident should serve as a broader concern for regulators. But in Pennsylvania, the official response is decidedly muted, noting that there have been no similar incidents in the state, and seemingly downplaying the concern.
A statement from the Department of Environmental Protection noted it “does not believe that there is enough information about the Ohio incident to relate hydraulic fracturing to an increased potential for earthquakes in Pennsylvania.”