Earthquakes prompt Ohio fracking ban

Scott Tong Jan 3, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: The strange sounds the good residents of Youngstown, Ohio, heard Christmas Eve turned out not to have been Santa on the roof. They were earthquakes. Same thing happened New Year’s Eve as well — in places close to a controversial type of natural gas drilling that’s come to be known as fracking.

Earthquakes are yet another hazard associated with fracking that’s led to yet louder calls for bans, which the state of Ohio partially did today. As part of his duties at the Sustainability Desk, Marketplace’s Scott Tong has been out and about at some fracking wells. He’s got our report.

Scott Tong: Ohio shut down five wells, where wastewater from natural gas drilling was being injected underground.

Did the pressure cause the quakes? Seismologist Leonardo Seeber at Columbia University.

Leonardo Seeber: When you find a quake that’s at that distance in time and space with injection of fluid underground, it’s clear that there’s a relationship. It’s not by chance.

Ohio’s oil and gas association calls it a “rare and isolated event.”

Maybe. But tell that to activists trying to ban fracking. Now they have another cloud to paint over the sector. There’s quakes, and maybe dirty drinking water, and maybe gas in my faucet.

Amy Mall is with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Amy Mall: We do support keeping the most sensitive places, whether it’s the most sensitive for human health, for wildlife, for drinking water sources, we do think those areas need to be kept off limits.

Right now New York bans fracking, as does France. Could that happen here?

Most independent observers agree with Rob Jackson. He teaches environmental science at Duke.

Rob Jackson: I don’t think in the United States that’s likely at all. I don’t think the political situation is the same. France also has completely different landowner rights, mineral rights. So that people don’t own the mineral rights the same way that people here do.

Investors seem to agree. Just yesterday, French producer Total injected $2 billion into U.S. gas development, as did a Chinese firm — getting the attention of Jack Plunkett, who does energy market research in Houston.

Jack Plunkett: You know the purchases we’re seeing are immense. They’re in the multi-billion-dollar range many times. And they’re paid for with cash. So that implies a really big buyer when that happens.

Big Oil sees global demand for gas, that it’s abundant and cheap — and only half as carbon-sinful as coal. By one estimate, global use of gas will leap 50 percent by 2035.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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