Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.


Ohio Christmas Quakes Likely Caused By Fracking Operation

80beatsBy Veronique GreenwoodJanuary 6, 2012 1:01 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news


A tower for removing gas at the Marcellus Shale Formation in Pennsylvania.

When it was revealed in November that several small earthquakes in northwestern England had been caused by fracking

, the controversial process of extracting shale gas from bedrock by cracking the rock with pressurized water, the gas company responsible stated that it was an extremely unlikely occurrence. True as that may be, residents of Youngstown, Ohio, can now testify that something similar has happened again

. This time, it wasn't the removal of shale gas that triggered the earthquakes, but apparently the subsequent cracking of sandstone in order to store the wastewater produced by fracking. These revelations come from scientists at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO), who were called in by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources after nine small quakes struck near a wastewater injection site in as many months. They set up seismographs that observed the earthquakes of 2.7 magnitude on Christmas Eve and 4.0 magnitude on New Year's Eve (which caused no injuries and little damage). Mark Fischetti over at Scientific Americanexplains


By triangulating the arrival time of shock waves at the four stations, Armbruster and his colleagues [from LDEO] needed only a day or two to determine with 95 percent certainty that the epicenters of the two holiday quakes were within 100 meters of each other, and within 0.8 kilometer of the injection well. The team also determined that the quakes were caused by slippage along a fault at about the same depth as the injection site, almost three kilometers down.

How would wastewater cause an earthquake? By leaking into a fault and acting as a lubricant, causing a sudden slippage of the rock faces, a process that seems to be behind earthquakes in Arkansas and Texas linked to wastewater injection wells. The company that runs the well, Northstar Disposal Services---owned by D&L Energy

, which operates natural gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania and Ohio---has shut it down in response to requests from Ohio officials, but the team from LDEO says that quakes could continue for up to a year without any further waste being injected.

Image courtesy of Ruhrfisch / Wikimedia Commons

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In