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Published: Saturday, 12/31/2011

Owner halts well injections after quakes


COLUMBUS -- The owner of a northeast Ohio fluid injection well has agreed to stop injecting brine used in drilling after a series of earthquakes were reported in the area this year.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced the agreement with Northstar Disposal Services LLC on Friday, saying that the wastewater injections were halted as a precaution so that any potential links with earthquakes can be further assessed.

"We are going to make sure this process is done right and won't hesitate to stop operation of disposal sites if we have concerns," the department's director, Jim Zehringer, said.

"And while our research doesn't point to a clear and direct correlation to drilling at this site and seismic activity, we will never gamble when safety is a factor."

Northstar Disposal Services of Youngstown is also the permit holder for the well.

The injection well, located in the Youngstown area, is used to dispose of wastewater that's a by-product of oil and gas drilling.

Thousands of gallons of brine are injected into the well daily and much of it is shipped in from out of state.

Ten minor earthquakes have occurred this year within two miles of the well, the department said. Each registered at 2.7 magnitude or lower.

Earthquakes that register above 4 magnitude are typically known to cause surface damage, the natural resources agency noted.

There are 177 similar injection wells around the state, and the Youngstown-area well has been the only site with seismic activity, the department said.

Injections there started in June, 2010.

More detailed data from Columbia University about a Christmas Eve quake prompted the agreement, the department said.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a 2.4-magnitude earthquake occurred early on Dec. 24.

Mr. Zehringer said the department reached out to Columbia University researchers, who positioned four seismometers in the area to capture more information about the earthquakes. The department received its analysis Thursday afternoon.

Information from the university's scientists indicated the Christmas Eve earthquake occurred "approximately two miles below and within a mile of the injection site," Mr. Zehringer said.

Patti Gorcheff, a Mahoning County resident who has raised concerns about drilling-related activity in the region, welcomed the state's action as good news.

"I think it's about time," she said. "I'm glad someone's paying attention."

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