The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is considering regulating drilling near “seismic hazard areas” after geologists linked a series of small earthquakes in Ohio to fracking at a Utica Shale well. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the DEP is beginning a “massive data-mining project” to determine whether the regulations are necessary.

In April, state geologists in Ohio determined that a “probable” link existed between five small tremors and fracking in the Utica Shale. State Oil & Gas Chief, Rick Simmers, believes that the fracking may have increased the pressure on a previously unknown microfault. As a result, the Ohio Natural Resources Department is implementing a special permitting condition that would require oil and gas companies who intend to drill within three miles of a known fault or seismic activity area of 2.0 magnitude and higher to install seismic-monitoring equipment. If the monitoring equipment alerts activity of 1.0 magnitude or greater, the company would have to temporarily cease drilling so geologists could evaluate the activity. If the evaluation reveals a link between the drilling and seismic activity, then the company would have to stop drilling.

Before Pennsylvania implements a permitting condition similar to Ohio’s, the DEP intends to look for possible links between fracking and seismic activity to determine if the state has any seismic hazard areas, and, if so, where they are. To do this, the DEP will compare current and historical records of seismic activity with completion reports that oil and gas companies have filed that detail fracking activity.

For further information regarding fracking and seismic activity, please see here and here.

Kathryn Geisinger