HARRISBURG — A Republican state lawmaker who fears injection wells used to dispose natural-gas drilling waste may trigger earthquakes and imperil Pennsylvania’s water supply wants to halt the practice until additional studies are conducted.
The move by freshman Rep. Cris Dush, of Indiana, comes on the heels of a U.S. Geological Survey report linking injection wells to earthquakes in five states, including Ohio — where much of Pennsylvania’s fracking waste is mechanically thrust thousands of feet underground. Critics worry that the waste might leak from the well shafts on the way down. And there is increasing evidence that the pressure from pumping waste into the rock is contributing to a spike in earthquake activity across the country.
Dush’s idea also comes as Pennsylvania’s use of injection wells slowly picks up speed as natural-gas drilling companies seek ways to eliminate the millions of gallons of wastewater remaining after wells are fracked.
Pennsylvania drillers in 2014 got rid of 147 million gallons of briny, polluted water by injecting it into disposal wells — mostly in Ohio disposal wells. State Department of Environmental Protection records show that wastewater from fracked wells in 25 Pennsylvania counties went to 45 injection disposal wells in 2014. Only three of those wells were in Pennsylvania — in Warren, Clearfield and Somerset counties.
Those living in Youngstown, Ohio, in December 2011 got a jolt when the ground began to tremble from a magnitude-4 earthquake linked to an injection well that was disposing natural-gas drilling waste.
Between 1973–2008, an average of 21 earthquakes of magnitude-3 and larger hit the central and eastern United States per year, the USGS found.
This rate jumped to an average of 99 earthquakes magnitude-3 or higher per year in 2009–2013.
And it’s getting worse.
In 2014, there were 659 earthquakes measured as magnitude-3 or higher in the central and eastern United States.