The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”) recently announced that it is tightening permits for fracking in areas with a history of seismic activity. Recent seismic activity in Mahoning County, Ohio, which is found in the Utica and Marcellus shale formations, prompted the new regulation. Under the new regulation, new permits issued by ODNR for fracking within three miles of a known fault or area of seismic activity greater than a 2.0 magnitude would require drilling companies to install sensitive seismic monitors. If the monitors detect a seismic event in excess of 1.0 magnitude, then activities would pause while the state investigates the cause of the seismic event. Well completion operations will be suspended if the investigation reveals a probable connection to the fracking. ODNR will develop new criteria and permit conditions for new applications in light of this policy change, and will review previously issued permits for areas that have not been drilled.
Previous studies on fracking and seismic activity had only linked the disposal of fracking wastewater to earthquakes, not the fracking itself. The U.S. Geological Survey has noted a dramatic increase in seismic activity over the last few years, but it has stopped short of blaming fracking for this uptick. The agency recently said that fracking has rarely caused any felt earthquakes and noted that the wastewater disposal process is generally the culprit. It encouraged further study of the issue.
Ohio is the first state to impose new regulations on fracking due to seismic concerns. Oklahoma previously linked fracking to the uptick in earthquakes over the last few years, including a 5.6 magnitude earthquake in 2011, but has yet to change its fracking regulations due to seismic activity.