Fracking caused small earthquakes in western Pennsylvania, DEP confirms

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection made a big announcement Friday via an online webinar.

“The Lawrence County event is properly classified as an induced tectonic seismic event,” droned an unseen scientist.

It was a webinar that only a geologist could love. Lots of science talk, geology terms and slides. There were no faces to be found.

But we found the guy behind the Power Point and drilled down for a translation, in English.

“We found a connection between oil and gas activities and these detected seismic events, essentially earthquakes,” explained Seth Pelepko, a geologist who’s also in the DEP’s Oil and Gas program as the Chief of Well Plugging.

The report found that last April in Lawrence County near the Ohio border, five small earthquakes were caused by hydraulic fracturing or fracking in the Utica shale which is deeper than the more frequently mentioned Marcellus shale.

The DEP found that those earthquakes were the equivalent of a lightning strike, that they were caused by a very specific type of drilling in a very specific spot of instability.

“There’s multiple contributing factors and they almost have to arrive in a certain combination to trigger an event,” Pelepko said.

The earthquakes are the first in Pennsylvania linked to drilling. The industry points out that there are more than 7,000 well statewide that have been drilled without incident. In a statement, it called the quakes, “isolated and exceptionally rare.”

But environmental group, Sierra Club PA, sees it differently.

“It’s the kind of activity that should not be allowed to move forward at this point because we know that it’s not safe,” Joanne Kilgour, Director of Sierra Club PA chapter, said.

The club typically opposes fracking because it believes fracking endangers drinking water, and now causes earthquakes.

“It’s one more evidence that fracking poses threats to our communities,” Kilgour said. “We need to think very seriously about the kind of energy future that we want here in Pennsylvania.”

But fracking and natural gas drilling has been a fiscal geyser, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Nor should it, says the DEP, which has increased its earthquake detection and is insisting keeping a close eye on drillers.

“I think the average person shouldn’t be concerned about this,” Pelepko said.

The five earthquakes were small, around 2.0 on the Richter scale, too small to be felt by people standing on the surface and only registering on seismometers.

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