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Earthquake in the Wayne should be a wakeup call

Ohio Environmental Council, April 12, 2017

Just before 8 am on Sunday, April 2, 2017, a 3.0 magnitude earthquake struck Ohio’s Wayne National Forest. The cause of the quake has not yet been formally declared, but one explanation, supported by a number of studies, is that the quake is the result of nearby fracking operations and/or wastewater injections.

This is a plausible explanation because earthquakes in the area are uncommon, especially at such a magnitude. We also know that there are seven hydraulic fracturing extraction wells within five miles of the earthquake’s epicenter and several wastewater injection sites with 20 miles.

While the oil and gas industry has long argued that extraction wells cannot cause seismic activity, several recent studies have debunked that claim and shown that extraction wells also cause seismic activity.

What shakes me the most is that the Marietta Unit of the Wayne National Forest, where the earthquake occurred, is already being leased for more oil and gas development. In fact, 40,000 acres could eventually be leased to fracking operations.

The Bureau of Land Management already auctioned off nearly 1,900 acres of Ohio’s only national forest despite a hand-delivered petition with 92,000 signatures opposing the lease. The only way left to save the Wayne is through a federal lawsuit, and the OEC is leading this fight.

When we talk about saving the Wayne, we often talk about how construction would scar the forests, disturb endangered species and unique ecosystems, and release air-polluting methane into this wild land at the foothills of Appalachia.

Now, “save the Wayne” takes on a new meaning: save it from earthquakes. From 2008 to 2016, Oklahoma saw their seismicity rate increase by 600 times as a result of fracking wastewater injection wells! It’s impossible to predict whether the Wayne will see a similar jump, but we’re inviting some serious risks into Ohio’s only national forest.

The Wayne National Forest hosts special areas of natural and historical significance like the 51-foot long rock formation called the Irish Run Bridge. While drilling will not occur in these areas, things like air pollution and earthquakes know no boundaries. Will the Wayne’s many covered bridges or the historic Ring House, the restored home of a 1800s milling family, be able to withstand a human-made increase in earthquakes?

The potential threats to Wayne National Forest require we stop and consider the consequences. Fortunately, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is taking the earthquake very seriously. They paused all fracking operations in the area immediately following the earthquake. If a link is found between the earthquake and fracking operations or wastewater injections, they will consider permanently suspending operations or requiring operators to significantly alter their activities.

For our part, the OEC will continue leading the charge to stop the lease of 40,000 acres of Ohio’s only national forest to oil and gas operations. You can help save the Wayne, too, by donating today to aid our federal lawsuit!