COLUMBUS -- The state will now require companies drilling horizontally for oil and gas in areas near known underground faults or that have experienced earthquakes to install seismic monitors to track future earth movement.
And in cases where magnitudes of such events reach certain levels, the state would require fracking activities to stop while the cause is investigated.
The permit changes were announced Friday by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in response to a series of earthquakes in the Youngstown area, which state officials say likely were connected to hydraulic fracturing.
"While we can never be 100 percent 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," ODNR Director James Zehringer said. "Not only will this reasonable course of action help to ensure public health and safety but it will also help us to expand our underground maps and provide more information about all types of seismicity in Ohio."
New permits for horizontal drilling within three miles of known faults or in the vicinity of seismic events greater than a 2.0 magnitude will require drillers to install "sensitive" seismic monitors.
If the latter detect movement of a magnitude of more than 1.0, drilling and related activities would have to stop while the quakes are investigated. And drilling would be suspended if fracturing is determined to be the cause.
Last month, the U.S. Geological Survey recorded five earthquakes in an area south of Lowellville in Mahoning County, ranging in magnitude from 2.1 to 3. The Vindicator earlier reported that Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory registered additional seismic activity in the area.
ODNR subsequently ordered a company to cease its drilling activities in the vicinity of the epicenter.
The agency said Friday that its "geologists believe the sand and water injected into the well during the hydraulic fracturing process may have increased pressure on an unknown micro fault in the area."
Bethany McCorkle, an ODNR spokeswoman, said further hydraulic fracturing at the site has been suspended, but the company will be allowed to produce oil and gas from other wells already in place there.
More than 800 wells have been drilled in eastern Ohio's emerging shale oilfields, according to ODNR.
In a statement, Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, urged caution in responding to the Youngstown-area quakes, calling the Poland Township seismic activity "a rare and isolated event that should not cast doubt about the safety of hydraulic fracturing"
He added, "Ohio has benefitted greatly from a robust oil and gas industry, and this should not curtail development. Understanding the geology of an area thousands of feet below ground is complicated. While advanced technology has greatly increased our knowledge of potential seismicity and fault lines, it is not always a precise science."
"We will thoroughly review the recommendations provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, but will only support measures based on sound, scientific principles and practicality."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.