YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - "This is a dog-and-pony show," said a dissatisfied man who along with several hundred other alarmed Youngstown residents attended a public hearing at the Covelli Center on Wednesday to investigate the city's unprecedented 4.0 earthquake on New Year's Eve.
An injection well used for a controversial natural gas extraction process known as fracking is viewed as the likely cause of the quake. Ten other smaller quakes have occurred in recent months. The North Star well responsible for the tremor is owned by D & L Energy.
The hearing was called by the public utilities committee of the City Council.
Residents heard reports from state environmental regulators, elected officials, geologists and the Ohio Environmental Council.
Youngstown Mayor Chuck Sammarone opened the hearing saying, "I am here in two capacities, as mayor and also as a homeowner." The mayor called for a ban on gas drilling until all necessary information is gathered.
State Rep. Bob Hagan who has called for hearings and a ban on fracking said he remained skeptical of Republican Gov. John Kasich's intentions as well as those of Ohio's gas and oil industry. "I wrote letters and have received no response," he said. "The answers are long-winded but we are not given answers as to why. If there is series of 11 earthquakes, why?" he continued to applause.
Hagan also pointed to a New York Times article revealing that hydrofracking, injecting water underground to release the gas, was releasing radioactive waste into wells across the country. "With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground," said the Times.
The Times article continued, "Most of these facilities cannot remove enough of the radioactive material to meet federal drinking-water standards before discharging the wastewater into rivers, sometimes just miles upstream from drinking-water intake plants."
Thousands of such wells are scattered across the state of Ohio.
The crowd booed when Jeffrey Dick, a geologist at Youngstown State University, remarked that there was no relationship between injection wells and earthquake activity. Dick then qualified his comments, saying that where faults exist near or at injection wells there is a high correlation.
However, the geologist complained that there was no money for adequate study of Ohio's underground terrain.
One-third of Ohio's oil and gas comes from local resources.
Larry Wickstrom of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources touted the value of fracking, claiming it would do away with concerns about the world running out of oil (the "peak oil" theory).
Roz Sims of Youngstown remarked that the idea that we don't need to worry about peak oil because of fracking seemed extremely short-sighted, given the dangers of fracking.
E. Mac Swinford, also of the Deparment of Natural Resources, argued that it is "very difficult for quakes to be induced by injection wells" because four conditions must exist for that to happen. One, there must be an existing fault. Second, the fault has to be in near-failure state, meaning it is ready to "pop" from stress. Third, the well would have to be drilled close enough to the fault and have a conduit from the fault to the well. Fourth, there would have to be a lot of pressure exerted for the fluid to reach the surface."
However the North Star well seems to be located along a fault.
Jack Shaner, legislative director of the Ohio Environmental Council, spoke to the need for thorough regulation of the industry. Only one day of notice is currently given before drilling is allowed. Regulations on other businesses require at least four notices, he said.
Shaner also suggested brine injection wells be treated as Class I hazardous waste wells requiring increased enforcement.
Other suggestions included "enacting stronger chain-of-custody laws, better monitoring of seismic activity and groundwater at injection wells, and strengthened public-notice rules."
Photo: Creative Commons 2.0 New York demonstration against fracking.