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Letter to Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator


Location: Washington, DC

Recently, Representative Tim Ryan (OH-13) contacted the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to express concerns over recent seismic activity in the Youngstown, Ohio region.

Representative Tim Ryan contacted the USEPA to gather more information about the potential link between earthquakes and the injection-well procedures. Representative Ryan also posed questions about whether operator error of an injection well could lead to seismic activity, and whether the reporting process for State submission of pumping records for review is sufficient.

Throughout 2011, Youngstown experienced increased minor seismic activity. On December 31, 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that an earthquake measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale struck within 100 yards of a brine-injection well responsible for disposing of a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing. State of Ohio officials believe there could be a link between this most recent earthquake and was the result of injecting waste water from a brine-injection well into the ground near a fault line.

A copy of Representative Ryan's letter follows:

Lisa Jackson, Administrator
USEPA Headquarters
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W.
Mail Code: 1101A
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Administrator Jackson:

I am inquiring today to get some insight and technical analysis on recent seismic activity in the Youngstown area within my Congressional District. There are indications this seismic activity resulted from the injection of brine water into wells located in close proximity to the earthquake epicenters. In addition to my concerns regarding the potential connection between the recent earthquakes and injection wells, I have significant concerns moving forward with the review process for location selection of injection wells, as well as the amount of mapping information that is being developed and shared between agencies.

As you are certainly aware, the Appalachian region of the country has seen a recent boom in subsurface exploration due to the discovery of natural gas in Marcellus and Utica Shale, as well as the continued innovation in the drilling technology used to extract the resource. Certain areas of my Congressional District, Ohio's 17th, have already seen significant activity in hydraulic fracturing and injection wells. Unfortunately, the area has also seen the regular occurrence of earthquakes over the course of the past year. There have been 11 recorded earthquakes in the Youngstown area, culminating with a 4.0 magnitude earthquake on December 31st. According to a January 5th Columbus Dispatch article, the 4.0 earthquake had an epicenter just 330 feet from a magnitude 2.7 earthquake that took place on December 24th. In that same article, there is a quote from Columbia University seismologist John Armbruster in reference to affirming the connection between the injection wells and the quakes where he claims "I find the evidence convincing."

Throughout the past month, my staff and I have been talking to relevant staff of the US EPA, USGS, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and local officials in order to gather as much information as possible and try to identify if there is anything that needs to be done at the federal level to help states be better prepared. I would like to get your official assessment on some technical issues associated with the recent seismic activity and its connection to injection wells.

1. Is there any prior EPA research regarding the phenomena of earthquakes in close proximity to active injection wells? Have you made or been informed of a definitive determination on their cause in previous cases? Do you plan on conducting an official study on the causes of the recent magnitude 4.0 earthquake near the Ohio Works well site?

2. Could operator error at the injection well or the purposeful increase of pressure beyond the normally allowed pressure limits cause seismic activity? If operator error or the purposeful increase of pressure beyond the normally allowed pressure limits caused a fracture or seismic activity, would EPA be made aware of this violation? If so, how quickly would EPA receive this information?

3. Is USEPA sufficiently satisfied with the reporting process from States' (specifically Ohio) pumping records?

I want you to know that I appreciate the work of the USEPA and its monitoring of this situation. I look forward to a continued dialogue with your agency as we work towards developing responsible oversight of this emerging industry and technology. Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Tim Ryan

Member of Congress

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