COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An energy company that shut down a northeastern Ohio brine injection well last week after earthquakes in the area has commissioned a geologic study, as Democrats in Columbus and Washington use the quakes to push for stricter regulations on oil and gas drilling and wastewater associated with hydrofracking.
A spokesman for Youngstown-based D&L Energy Group told The Associated Press on Thursday that the company is launching the study because everyone involved wants to "figure out what's going on." A seismologist investigating the quakes has said the well almost certainly caused the series of minor quakes.
Company officials discussed the plan during a private meeting Wednesday with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
State Rep. Robert Hagan, D-Youngstown, has scheduled a community forum on the issue for Jan. 11 and has called for a statewide moratorium on injection drilling until 2014. The Youngstown City Council voted Wednesday to support his proposal.
He invited representatives of ODNR, Environmental Protection Agency and Republican Gov. John Kasich's office. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, both Democrats, are also pushing for state and federal officials to attend, he said.
"I'm tired of these discussions happening in secret," Hagan said. "People have a right to know what's going on, what's being done."
ODNR spokesman Carlo LoParo said the department plans to send a representative to the hearing.
D&L spokesman Vince Bivacqua said the company plans to pay for its own comprehensive study, which it will share with state regulators in hopes of getting the well reopened. He said the state may choose to replicate the results or have them reviewed by outside experts.
"It was not an overly long meeting, but it was important because we all want to figure out what's going on," he said. "There's been a lot of rampant speculation that there's been a link between my client's activity and this seismic activity."
Kasich called for a moratorium Saturday on injection drilling within a roughly five-mile radius of the well operated by D&L affiliate Northstar Disposal Services LLC, after a 4.0 magnitude quake brought the total for 2011 to 11. Seismic surveys have since placed the well near the epicenter of both the New Year's Eve quake and a smaller quake Christmas Eve. Four other wells are affected by the moratorium.
LoParo said the state will take the D&L study into consideration.
"The Department of Natural Resources will err on the side of caution in favor of an indefinite moratorium on injection drilling within that area," LoParo said. "We will always defer to our data when making determinations, but we will review other data as it becomes available."
He emphasized that 176 other injection wells have been operating in Ohio since the mid-1980s without experiencing problems.
"There has been no seismic activity related to those wells, which is a strong indication that those wells were not built on fault lines," he said.
The Columbia University seismologist leading the state investigation has said the injection of thousands of gallons of brine daily into the well that opened in 2010 almost certainly caused the quakes. John Armbruster of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., said the tremors could continue for a year.
Injection wells have also been suspected in quakes in Astabula in far northeast Ohio, and in Arkansas, Colorado and Oklahoma, Armbruster said.
Ohio hasn't experienced a quake stronger than 4.0 since 2001, said state geologist Larry Wickstrom — and no quakes at all in Mahoning County, where the well is located, according to information from the Ohio Geological Survey. He said faults are now suspected in the area of the Youngstown well, but it is often impossible to identify a fault exists until drilling occurs.
Ohio Geological Survey: http://www.ohiogeology.com