Is Gas Drilling Causing West Virginia Earthquakes?

By Emily Corio | November 24, 2010

Officials say there’s no clear explanation for what may have prompted several earthquakes near Frametown earlier this year. Some have speculated that the cluster of small earthquakes was linked to local gas drilling.

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, was sitting at his dining room table, reading the newspaper, when he felt a jolt that rattled his china cabinet. He thought a car had hit his house. It was one of several earthquakes in the Frametown area earlier this year.

“This was certainly a cause of alarm because when you have several events that happen in a close proximity, in one time period, it raises the level of concern,” Boggs said.

Chesapeake Energy operates an underground injection well near Frametown. This is where it stores fluid used in drilling gas wells. The fluid is basically water laced with salt and chemicals, so it can’t be disposed of in rivers or at wastewater treatment plants, but one permitted option for disposal is old wells.

Boggs says that since the earthquakes, Chesapeake has decreased the amount of fluid it’s putting underground.

“Since that time, we’ve had no events,” Boggs said. “Now whether that’s linked or not, I don’t know.”

Chesapeake Energy’s Vice President for Corporate Development and Government Relations, Scott Rotruck, says the company doesn’t think it’s to blame.

“We believe the evidence is overwhelming that that salt water disposal well has not induced any new seismic activity into the area, but we can’t say it conclusively,” Rotruck said.

“The pressures under which we introduce that water into the formation is very, very small, so we are almost certain that we have not had an effect.”

Rotruck says the company continues to use the well and believes it’s operating as it should. He also says the company is reusing more of its drilling water by filtering it and mixing it with fresh water.

Delegate Boggs says that since the earthquakes, several private water wells in the area are being tested for contamination, and the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey may monitor the area more closely.

“We’ve also taken some steps through the WVGES about the installation of some seismic monitors in central West Virginia,” said Boggs. “We didn’t have any seismic monitors working in West Virginia at the time.”

Several legislative interim committees are looking into oil and gas issues this year, including how drilling operations affect roadways, landowners, water and the economy.

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