When a magnitude-4 earthquake hit Youngstown, OH on New Years Day this year, people started asking whether this – and the slew of other quakes hitting their region – was related to nearby injection well.
Yesterday officials from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that, yes indeed, about a dozen earthquakes were most likely caused by injections into deep underground waste disposal wells. Wells that accepted waste drilling fluids and injected them into these deep – sometimes 9,000 or so feet – wells.
Ohio has about 200 underground injection wells. About 180 of those disposal wells accept waste from oil and gas operations, generating about $1 million for the state. Last year more than half of that waste came from out of state, most from Pennsylvania. While the state charges 20-cents a barrel for out-of-staters, at least one private company charges $3/barrel for drilling waste disposal.
Clearly, taking drilling waste can be big business – especially when you consider how many truckloads of waste fluids are being hauled away just from the Marcellus gas fields. According to news reports, PA drillers sent almost 1.5 million barrels of waste to Ohio injection wells during the second half of 2011. And the drilling has yet to begin in NY.
Following up on their report, Ohio regulators announced new rules for underground injection wells:
- They are banning injection into Precambrian rock – those formations at 8,000 feet and below. Existing wells that reach into that formation must be plugged.
- Injection wells must have state-of-the-art pressure and volume monitoring; that includes automatic shut-off systems.
- The state will require an electronic tracking system to identify chemicals in all drilling waste fluids entering the state.
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo insists that science must guide drilling regulations. It’s pretty clear from OH – and other states experiencing injection well-caused quakes – that drilling has out-paced the science.