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Wastewater Well Operator D&L Energy To Fund Ohio Quake Study

The Ohio company that owns a wastewater disposal well in Youngstown shut down by state regulators for allegedly triggering a series of earthquakes will pay for a study to determine the cause of the seismic activity.

Meanwhile, the city of Youngstown has enacted a moratorium on disposal wells within the city and is organizing a public meeting for Wednesday to discuss the earthquakes.

Vince Bevacqua, spokesman for Youngstown-based D&L Energy Inc., told NGI's Shale Daily the company agrees with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) that a comprehensive study of the seismic events needs to be performed. He said the study would be conducted by third-party experts.

"Until we have the data from that study, talking about seismic activity and its possible relationship to the well is conjecture," Bevacqua said Tuesday. "It's just pure speculation, which does no one any good. We really have been asking people to hold off and wait for the study material to come in. We understand people's curiosity, but short of having that data it's pretty difficult to discuss this in a reasonable and informed way."

On Jan. 1 the ODNR ordered Northstar Disposal Services LLC, a D&L affiliate, to halt operations at its wastewater disposal well in Youngstown (see Shale Daily, Jan. 4). The agency said it was concerned that wastewater from hydraulic fracturing (fracking) injected into the well may have triggered seismic activity that began last March 2011 and culminated in a 4.0-magnitude temblor on Dec. 31.

D&L said it has released pressure at the well by bringing in water holding tanks to store any water that returns to the surface from the well bore. The company said it would remove casing pipe in preparation for the seismic study.

In a separate statement Monday, D&L said no conclusive link had been established between the well and the earthquakes, and it added that the well's proximity to the seismic activity wasn't enough to prove that the activities conducted there were responsible for the quakes.

"Despite the opinion of some that oil and gas companies are large, unfeeling corporations, we'd like to point out that [D&L] is a private, family-owned business that has operated in Youngstown for 26 years," the company said. "The company owners and staff live in the Youngstown metro area. We are not detached from the concerns of this community. We are, in fact, very much part of this community."

D&L also said "there is no timetable for the start of the study, or for completion of the report at the conclusion of the study, but [we are] committed to moving forward in an expeditious manner."

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, indicated that the governor -- a supporter of the shale gas industry -- would allow the ODNR's order suspending operations at the D&L well to continue, for now.

"At some point we'll probably talk about some next steps," Nichols told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. Speaking candidly on the issue, he added, "You wouldn't shut down the auto industry if there was a fire at a tire dump. The reality is that this administration has been abundantly cautious on this from the moment the size of our shale deposits were completely analyzed."

Last Wednesday Youngstown City Council, at the urging of state Rep. Robert Hagan (D-Youngstown), passed a resolution calling for an immediate, temporary moratorium on brine injection operations within the city limits. The city's Public Utilities Committee then scheduled a public meeting to discuss wastewater disposal wells and invited ODNR officials. The meeting is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Wednesday in the community room at the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown.

D&L said it met with ODNR officials last Wednesday to discuss the earthquakes and quoted the agency's deputy director, Thomas Tugend, as saying the cause of the earthquakes had not yet been determined.

Last year regulators in Arkansas established a moratorium on wastewater disposal wells in an area of the Fayetteville Shale after similar quake activity was reported there (see Shale Daily, July 29, 2011; March 4, 2011).

The ODNR said quake activity began in the Youngstown area on March 17. Four seismometers operated by Columbia University recorded a 2.7-magnitude earthquake on Dec. 24 in addition to the Dec. 31 quake. The agency added that the two quakes over the holidays were 330 feet apart and occurred at a similar depth, about 12,000 feet.

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