New Drilling Regulations Imposed in Ohio to Address Potential Seismic Activity

On April, 11, 2014, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) announced that it would be imposing new permit terms and conditions for drilling near faults or areas of past seismic activity. The new policies are in response to the finding of state geologists researching recent seismic events in northeastern Ohio that show what they term as a probable connection between hydraulic fracturing and a nearby, previously unknown “microfault.”

ODNR stated that the series of small earthquakes in Mahoning County last month likely were connected to hydraulic fracturing activities at a well in Poland Township, leading them to create what the state terms as the most stringent drilling rules in the nation regarding seismic activity which will require seismic monitoring near fault lines and epicenters.  ODNR geologists believe the sand and water injected into the well during the hydraulic fracturing process may have increased pressure on an unknown microfault in the area.

Further hydraulic fracturing activities at the site have been suspended but the company will be permitted to recover resources from five of the previously drilled wells located on the pad.

New permits issued by the department for horizontal drilling within three miles of a known fault line or known areas of seismic activity greater than 2.0 magnitude will now require companies to install seismic monitors. If those monitors detect a seismic event in excess of 1.0 magnitude, activities would cease while the cause of the event is investigated. If the investigation reveals a probable link between the hydraulic fracturing process and the seismic event, all well completion operations will be suspended by the state.

The department says it will develop new criteria and permit conditions for new applications in light of this change in policy. It will also review previously issued permits that have not been drilled.

The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that from 1950 to 2009, Ohio experienced an average of two earthquakes per year greater than 2.0 magnitude, but that since the growth of oil and gas activities in the state starting in 2010, the number of such events rose to nine per year.

Ohio has joined a consortium of state regulators dedicated to learning more about seismic activity, especially as it relates to oil and gas activity. The members of this consortium are currently working with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission and Groundwater Protection Council to share information and knowledge.

Armando Benincasa concentrates his practice in the areas of energy law, environmental law, environmental litigation, administrative law, government affairs and lobbying. His practice consists of cases involving permitting and regulatory requirements for natural resources, including coal and oil and gas, solid waste, water resources, underground storage tanks, voluntary remediation, and the drafting of rules and statutes related to the environment.
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