Fracking’s big picture


Three earthquakes near a Dallas suburb are linked to disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale bedrock to produce oil and natural gas. Ohio officials should glean what they can from a federal investigation of the Texas quakes.

Last March, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources linked a dozen prior earthquakes near Youngstown to similar activity. Scientists are in the early stages of learning how underground formations can be weakened by drilling and high-pressure disposal of waste fluids.

Neither investigation will snuff out enthusiasm for a new horizontal-drilling technique that could unlock massive amounts of previously trapped resources. But these cases offer a reminder of the need for strict rules governing fracking, to protect land and water. Otherwise, Ohio and other states could pay dearly for shortsightedness.

Ohio can be proactive because it is still at the start of its fracking boom. Based on research by the state’s rapidly developing oil and gas industry, lawmakers and regulators can write business-friendly rules that also protect the environment, as resources are extracted and waste fluids are injected back into the ground.

State officials cannot take shortcuts or fail to heed warning signs, whether earthquakes or other phenomena. Ohio environmental groups have raised multiple fears about fracking, from contaminated drinking water to its impact on roads, traffic, and air quality.

This month, Yellow Springs banned shale-gas drilling and related activities because of concerns over possible earthquakes, contamination, declining property values and mortgage loans, and potential loss of organic certification for farmers. The village is not a likely spot for drilling, but officials claim it sits on geological formations that make it ideal for underground injection of waste fluids.

To help Ohio reap the benefits of fracking, state officials need to understand its hidden costs. It shouldn’t take an earthquake to make them see the big picture.