Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released an official report investigating seismic events in Lawrence County on April 25-26, 2016 and their connection to nearby fracking sites operated by Hilcorp Energy Company. The report found that the earthquakes on those days “had a marked temporal/spatial relationship to natural gas hydraulic fracturing activities,” and suggested the specific fracking process implemented (zipper fracturing) and the relative shallowness of the Utica Shale was to blame. Continued drilling will be permitted at these sites, but DEP regulators have implemented new start-and-stop protocols for operations and compliance.
In an era where misinformation and media bias seem inescapable, it’s paramount that people objectively consider scientific findings, especially when they relate to controversial topics. It is true that these earthquakes were not felt above ground and caused no property damage. But, it is also true that this earthquake wasn’t triggered by the usual mechanism, as previous earthquakes linked to fracking have most often been from the re-injection of spent frack-fluid into deep wells, not zipper-fracturing. This may be cause for concern, as it highlights how sensitive the Utica Shale and its underlying bedrock are to geophysical disturbances.
What are your thoughts on the findings? Is the connection between fracking and earthquakes being sensationalized or is this earthquake be a black mark against future frack operations on the Utica Shale? Should more research be done into earthquakes near frack operations or would those resources be better spent elsewhere?
For more information on induced earthquakes, see https://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/induced/