Category Archives: Education / Information

Blog Post From Dept of Interior: Is the Recent Increase in Felt Earthquakes in the Central US Natural or Manmade?

By David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior

Last week, following the publication of an abstract intended to preview an upcoming talk by a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist, a number of news articles started popping up about new scientific evidence of a link between unconventional oil and gas production here in the United States, and seismic activity (earthquakes).

Unfortunately – although not surprisingly given the limited information available in the abstract – the accuracy of these media reports varied greatly. With this blog post, I want to clarify a few points about USGS’s important and ongoing work to study induced seismicity.

Science will continue to play a critical role as the Obama administration moves forward with an all-of-the-above strategy for American energy. USGS’s contributions to this effort, including scientist Bill Ellsworth’s work on the correlation between wastewater injection sites and seismicity, represent an important part of the overall dialogue about how we can continue to expand domestic oil and gas production safely and responsibly.


As part of its ongoing effort to study a variety of potential impacts of U.S. energy production, USGS scientists have been investigating the recent increase in the number of magnitude 3 and greater earthquakes in the midcontinent of the United States. Beginning in 2001, the average number of earthquakes occurring per year of magnitude 3 or greater increased significantly, culminating in a six-fold increase in 2011 over 20th century levels.

These earthquakes are fairly small – large enough to have been felt by many people, yet small enough to rarely have caused damage.

An increase in earthquakes such as this prompts an important question: are they natural, or man-made? To address this question, a team of USGS scientists led by Bill Ellsworth of the Earthquake Science Center analyzed changes in the rate of earthquake occurrence in the midcontinent using large USGS databases of earthquakes recorded since 1970.

Our scientists then took a closer look at earthquake rates in regions where energy production activities have changed in recent years. The following findings will be presented on April 18 at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America, with a published study forthcoming.

Preliminary Findings

USGS’s studies do not suggest that hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” causes the increased rate of earthquakes. USGS’s scientists have found, however, that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells.

Wastewater is a byproduct of oil and natural gas production from tight shale formations and coal beds. Generally, wastewater produced from many oil and gas production wells within a field may be injected through a single or just a few disposal wells.

In preliminary findings, our scientists cite a series of examples for which an uptick in seismic activity is observed in areas where the disposal of wastewater through deep-well injection increased significantly. These areas tend to be in the middle of the country – mostly in Colorado, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Ohio.

What We Know

While it appears likely that the observed seismicity rate changes in the middle part of the United States in recent years are manmade, it remains to be determined if they are related to either changes in production methodologies or to the rate of oil and gas production.

We also find that there is no evidence to suggest that hydraulic fracturing itself is the cause of the increased rate of earthquakes. The fact that the disposal (injection) of wastewater produced while extracting resources has the potential to cause earthquakes has long been known. One of the earliest documented case histories with a scientific consensus of wastewater inducing earthquakes, is at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal well, near Denver. There, a large volume of wastewater was injected from 1962-1966, inducing a series of earthquakes (below magnitude 5).

We also have previously reported that the production of oil and gas (extraction) can potentially cause earthquakes when changes in the underground stresses created by the removal of large volumes of oil, gas or water are large enough.

And, of course, we know that the Earth’s crust is pervasively fractured at depth by faults. These faults can sustain high stresses without slipping because natural “tectonic” stress and the weight of the overlying rock pushes the opposing sides of the fault together, increasing the frictional resistance to fault slip. The injected wastewater in deep wells can counteract the frictional forces on faults, causing an earthquake.

Not all wastewater disposal wells induce earthquakes. Of approximately 150,000 Class II injection wells in the United States, including roughly 40,000 waste fluid disposal wells for oil and gas operations, only a tiny fraction of these disposal wells have induced earthquakes that are large enough to be of concern to the public. Information on wastewater disposal wells and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Underground Injection Control program is available online.

Earthquakes induced by fluid-injection activities are not always located close to the point of injection. In some cases, the induced earthquakes have been located as far as 6 miles from the injection well.

Current and Future Research

The USGS is coordinating with other federal agencies, including the EPA and Department of Energy, to better understand the occurrence of induced seismicity through both internal research and by funding university-based research with a focus on injection-induced earthquakes from wastewater disposal technologies. For instance, USGS and its university partners have deployed seismometers at sites of known or possible injection-induced earthquakes in Arkansas, southern Colorado, Oklahoma, and Ohio.

Currently, there are no methods available to anticipate whether a planned wastewater disposal activity will trigger earthquakes that are large enough to be of concern. Evidence from some case histories suggests that the magnitude of the largest earthquake tends to increase as the total volume of injected wastewater increases. Injection pressure and rate of injection may also be factors. More research is needed to determine answers to these important questions.

Although we cannot eliminate the possibility, there have been no conclusive examples linking wastewater injection activity to triggering of large, major earthquakes even when located near a known fault.

It’s clear that science is a key part of the Obama administration’s all-of-the-above strategy for American energy, and we will continue to research these important questions – working with industry and our state, federal and academic partners to ensure that we continue to expand oil and gas production safely and responsibly in the United States.

Link to Original:

New Presentation Posted: Ohio Department of Natural Resources – Geological Survey

A new presentation (PDF of a powerpoint) has been posted on ODNR’s website. The authors of the presentation are: Larry Wickstrom, Chris Perry, Ron Riley, and Matthew Erenpreiss. Within the presentation there are some new maps of the Utica-Point Pleasant shale play, aswell as information about unit sizes and examples of where a well pad might be located within a unit. There is also information about a proposed wet gathering system for Ohio

See the presentation here:

40% of state drilling regulators have industry ties

Mike Soraghan, E&E reporter Greenwire: Monday, December 19, 2011

Robert Finne was talking with a friend about the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission earlier this year when they both started wondering, “Who are these people?”

So they wrote to the commission and asked. Finne, a critic of gas drilling in the Fayetteville Shale, was surprised to learn that most of the commissioners owned oil and gas drilling companies.

“I knew the cards were stacked against us, but I had no idea how badly,” Finne said.


A new wave of drilling, fueled by the practice some call “fracking,” is promising prosperity and energy security for the country. E&E investigates whether anyone is ensuring it’s done right. Click here to read the report.

Five of the nine members of the appointed commission have their own drilling companies. Two others are officers of oil and gas companies.

Such ties are common among oil and gas officials, according to review of state records and other documents by Greenwire.

More than 40 percent of officials regulating oil and gas production in the top drilling states, records show, come from the industry they are charged with policing.

It is a degree of self-regulation enjoyed by few other industries, if any. And it heightens suspicion among critics of the nation’s drilling boom that companies are allowed to damage the environment with impunity.

Supporters of the industry, and the regulators themselves, say it simply makes sense to have technical experts deciding technical issues.

“I would rather have these issues looked at by someone with technical knowledge rather than someone who doesn’t,” said Jim Springer, spokesman for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, which is overseen by a seven-member board, five of whom have oil and gas backgrounds. “They certainly represent the interests of the state very well.”

But people unfamiliar with oil and gas production are often surprised to learn that drilling is policed by agencies tied so closely to industry, said Bruce Baizel, staff attorney with Earthworks in Durango, Colo.

“There’s still a large presumption that government is looking out for them,” Baizel said.

Greenwire reviewed the backgrounds of 95 oil and gas commissioners, board members and agency heads in the top 27 oil and gas states. Of those, 39 had an oil and gas background, or 41 percent.

Among the 71 members of boards and commissions, at least 20 are actively engaged in the business they are regulating.

In most of those states, industry ties are not considered a conflict of interest, or a problematic “revolving door.” Instead, they’re a job requirement.

The laws creating the governing panels often require that industry be guaranteed seats on commissions, along with royalty owners, local government officials and sometimes environmentalists. Others designate that some number of the board have “substantial experience” in the industry, the environment or fields like petroleum geology.

Those requirements are part of a regulatory system started decades ago with the goal of controlling production and protecting oil from water rather than protecting the environment (Greenwire, Dec. 14).

As advances in the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing fuel the expansion of drilling across the country, these agencies are being called upon to look after the environment, protect human health and resolve disputes between companies and neighbors of their well pads. But regulators rarely seek large penalties for violations and often do not even track enforcement data (Greenwire, Nov. 14).

In addition to being populated from the world of petroleum companies, most of the state oil and gas agencies are expected to both police and promote the industry. As they weigh policies and enforcement, they must balance environmental protection with the need to efficiently develop a state’s natural resources (Greenwire, Nov. 30).

Oil and gas agencies in some states, particularly east of the Mississippi River , are not governed by boards or commissions. Instead, they are part of a state department in a governor’s administration. In at least eight states, the head of the state oil and gas agency comes from industry.

Setting policy, overseeing enforcement

The oil and gas agencies handle technical issues, such as well spacing and unitization. But they also oversee enforcement and set policy.

Regulators with industry ties
More than 40 percent of oil and gas commissioners, board members and division heads come from the industry they regulate. For each state, the number of commissioners and state directors is followed in parentheses with the number of those who have ties to industry. Source: State records and other documents.
State Commissioners Staff Directors
Alabama 3 (0) 1 (0)
Alaska 3 (3) 0 (0)
Arkansas 9 (7) 1 (0)
California 0 (0) 1 (0)
Colorado 9 (4) 1 (0)
Florida 0 (0) 1 (0)
Illinois 0 (0) 1 (0)
Indiana 0 (0) 1 (0)
Kansas 3 (0) 1 (1)
Kentucky 0 (0) 1 (0)
Louisiana 0 (0) 1 (1)
Michigan 0 (0) 1 (0)
Mississippi 5 (2) 1 (0)
Montana 7 (3) 1 (0)
Nebraska 3 (2) 1 (1)
New Mexico 2 (0) 1 (0)
New York 0 (0) 1 (1)
North Dakota 0 (0) 1 (1)
Ohio 5 (2) 1 (0)
Oklahoma 3 (1) 1 (0)
Pennsylvania 0 (0) 1 (0)
South Dakota 0 (0) 0 (0)
Texas 3 (0) 1 (0)
Utah 7 (5) 1 (1)
Virginia 6 (1) 1 (0)
West Virginia 0 (0) 1 (1)
Wyoming 2 (1) 1 (1)
  Number of regulators = 95
  Total with industry ties = 39

In recent months, commissions and agencies have taken the lead in hashing out public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals.

Arkansas was one of them. The state was among the first to order public disclosure. But activists like Finne were angered when they learned that the companies could get an exemption if the chemical was a trade secret.

The commission also handled an outbreak of earthquakes near an injection well for drilling waste, shutting down such wells in a 1,000-square-mile area. Finne met earlier this year with the commission director, Lawrence Bengal, who explained to them that the commissioners were in charge of deciding what to do about the situation. Finne said it was after that meeting that he started to wonder about the commissioners’ backgrounds.

Bengal said it is a misunderstanding to think the business interests of commission members would prevent them from enforcing the law.

“They’re implementing the law as written by the Legislature,” Bengal said in an interview. “If they were to refuse to enforce those laws, they would be in violation of those statutes.”

In Colorado , penalties have risen since 2007, when the state Legislature took away the industry’s built-in majority on the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Still, the panel’s largest fine against an active company amounted to less than two hours’ worth of profits for the company.

The results of Colorado ‘s restructuring could be seen earlier this month when the executive director of the commission, Dave Neslin, negotiated with industry and environmentalists on a rule requiring public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, Earthwork’s Baizel said.

“It gave him more latitude in what he could negotiate in terms of public health,” he said. “They probably couldn’t have gotten that done before the change.”

Sometimes, governors pick more commissioners with oil and gas backgrounds than law requires.

For example, in Arkansas , there are five members who own oil and gas production companies, though the law requires three. In Colorado , the small-town mayor who represents local government on the commission also used to work as a welder and fabricator for oil field equipment and trucks.

In Ohio , Robert Chase, a Marietta College petroleum engineering professor, was appointed to the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission in 2008 by Gov. Ted Strickland (D) as a representative of the public. But Chase has an extensive industry background that includes working for Halliburton and Gulf Research and Development Co., and consulting for Columbia Gas, EQT (formerly Equitable Resources) and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp.

In New York, where state officials have taken the most cautious approach to allowing shale boom (development is on hold), the director of the Division of Mineral Resources, Bradley Field, came to state government 25 years ago from Getty Oil Co. Field, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

The leadership of the oil and gas agencies has developed at a time when oil and gas drilling has been a back-burner issue in most states, noted Cary Coglianese, law professor at the University of Pennsylvania law school and director of the Penn Program on Regulation.

But with the increasing prominence of the issue many refer to as “fracking” and the surge in production across the country, he said, the ties between industry and regulators are likely to draw more scrutiny and possibly demands for change.

“When a sleepy, obscure issue suddenly becomes important,” Coglianese said, “legislation tends to get rewritten.”

Link to article:

Ohio State Economists: Shale Gas May Bring Fewer Jobs Than Thought

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A recent industry-funded study estimating that development of shale natural gas and oil could create or support 200,000 jobs in Ohio greatly overestimates the economic impact of the industry, according to a new Ohio State University analysis. Furthermore, the researchers say, focusing on jobs rather than other factors related to the growing industry is misguided.

The analysis, written by doctoral student Amanda Weinstein and Mark Partridge, Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy in Ohio State’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, is available online at

Partridge and Weinstein wrote “The Economic Value of Shale Natural Gas in Ohio” in response to various industry studies, such as the Kleinhenz and Associates study prepared for the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, which was released in September. The Ohio State researchers’ analysis suggests that the state could expect a net gain of about 20,000 jobs over the next four years from shale gas development, just one-tenth of what the Kleinhenz study suggested.

“We have about 5.1 million jobs in Ohio, and we need to create about 100,000 jobs each year to keep up with natural population growth to start to tangibly reduce unemployment,” said Partridge, who also has appointments with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and Ohio State University Extension. If an industry could create 200,000 jobs over four years, that would be a remarkable achievement, he said. But the industry-sponsored analysis used techniques for estimating job numbers that, though typically used by consultants, are not accepted best practices for such analyses.

“There are well-accepted techniques for coming up with these numbers. They are not typically used in industry reports, but in academic circles, at least, they are acknowledged as being much more accurate,” Partridge said.

The energy sector is one that’s more capital-intensive than labor-intensive, Weinstein said. As such, Ohio shouldn’t expect it to have a huge impact on employment growth. “Any growth in jobs is good,” she said, “but this development just won’t provide the entire answer for Ohio.”

As part of their analysis, the researchers examined employment and income growth in several Pennsylvania counties. Though per-capita income has generally increased more rapidly in shale-gas areas, job growth has not always been higher in areas where shale gas development is occurring compared to otherwise similar areas not affected by it.

“It’s useful to look at what’s happened in Pennsylvania so far,” Weinstein said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens in Ohio.”

Although the smaller jobs estimate is, not surprisingly, the first thing readers of the report might notice, it is not the most important message they tried to get across in their analysis, Partridge and Weinstein said.

“On the local level with shale energy development, there’s a sudden influx of money — from lease payments, platform construction, that sort of thing,” Partridge said. “It’s a real gold-rush mentality. But what communities really want and need is long-term development. Typically, energy booms don’t provide that kind of sustainable growth. These communities need to be aware that there’s a boom/bust cycle, and they need to do what they can to plan for it.”

For example, communities involved in shale gas development see an abrupt invasion of out-of-town workers filling up nearby motels, hotels and restaurants. The instinct might be to provide more housing or other provisions for the newcomers, Partridge said. But such infrastructure won’t be needed after the initial phases of development, “and then someone has to do the maintenance and upkeep. The problem is that most communities are distracted by the short-term gains they’re experiencing rather than keeping their eyes on the long-term.”

Communities should seriously examine how they might use the boom years to develop new community assets that will remain long after the bust takes hold, Partridge said.

“They should work with industry to ensure it pays for new roads and infrastructure it needs to do business,” Partridge said. “They should figure out ways to capitalize on the new money to build schools or other community assets. They need to think about ensuring they have a long-term financial plan that will provide a cushion as the boom moves out of their area.”

The report also raises discussion of some of the environmental implications of shale gas development.

“We’re not environmental experts,” Weinstein said, “but we do believe we can add to the conversation about environmental considerations. Too often in the debate, environmental impacts of shale gas development are compared to doing nothing at all. That ignores the reality that in all likelihood, shale gas will supplant coal as an energy source, and shale gas is a cleaner fuel than coal.”

In the same way, an increase in jobs in the shale gas industry will likely mean a decrease in coal-related jobs, the researchers said. Such displacement needs to be accounted for in any economic analysis.



Martha Filipic, Communications and Technology



Mark Partridge, Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics


Amanda Weinstein, Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics


Dec 07 – 6:00pm Public Service Presentation to Examine Oil and Gas Leases in Southeast Ohio

There will be an informative presentation to discuss landowner-focused oil and gas leases in Southeast Ohio on Wednesday, December 7 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event will be held at Athens High School Cafeteria, 1 Highschool Road, The Plains, and is free and open to all.

Paul Feezel of Carroll Concerned Citizens will discuss point-by-point guidelines to ensure genuine property protection. Information about how gas drilling leases can affect property use and value will be provided, and attendees will learn about the oil and gas drilling process and the affect it can have on a community.

Jen Bowman, Environmental Projects Manager at the Voinovich School at Ohio University, will speak about the potential sources of contamination that can occur during the drilling operations as well as the importance of testing private water sources such as wells and springs prior to shale gas and oil exploration. “It is important for folks to realize that there are not regulations in place to test water prior to drilling, during or after,” says Bowman. “In the case of surface and/or groundwater contamination, scientifically-defensible water quality testing results are needed prior to drilling to prove cause and effect from the drilling operation.”

Contact Rachel Hyden at for questions, or visit for more information.

New York Times Analyzes More Than 110,000 Landowner Leases & Creates Searchable Database

In the latest article of the “Drilling Down Series” Ian Urbina and Jo Craven McGinty from the New York Times have worked to collect and analyze trends in 110,000 landowner oil and gas leases from 6 states. They have written the following article that documents some of the trends they have found including interviews with landowners  that describe difficulties some are finding in implementing agreements in leases. It is an important read for anyone considering a lease:

There is also a searchable archive of over 110,000 leases and related documents, with explanations of some key legal terminology that you can find here including approximately 1,200 leases from Ohio:

Note from Times: There are more than 8 million oil and gas leases in the United States. This collection only contains leases, addenda and other documents from counties that digitized their records and that were willing to provide them. The Times collected the leases and other related documents, signed between 2007 and 2011, because many leasing experts said that they lacked an ability to review a diversity of leases to compare terms. A research team from the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School assisted the Times in analyzing some of the legal language.


New Link: Landman Report Card

Look Before you lease has added a new link to our main page: the landman report card. Visit the landman report card to learn about landmen operating in your neighborhood. Also, post your own story.

Note: Clicking this link will take your off of the LB4UL page.

About the Landman Report Card

A landman is an agent that represents oil & gas companies in negotiations with landowners: their job is to get the best terms for the company. This interaction is perhaps one of the most important elements of the oil and gas exploration and extraction process.

Though many landmen sign onto and abide by codes of ethics, some landowners have accounts of landman dishonesty and misbehavior. Landowners are particularly vulnerable to misinformation at this moment as it is often the first time that they make contact with the oil and gas industry. The Landman Report Card was started to assist landowners in this tricky process by allowing landowners to educate and assist each other.

This site provides tools to learn about landmen and their companies through reading reviews submitted by users. It also allows users to submit their own report cards, contact other users and use the site as their own private diary of interactions with this industry.

Who hosts this site?

The Landman Report Card is produced by the ExtrAct group at MIT in collaboration with citizens’ alliances in Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and West Virginia as well as the Oil and Gas Accountability Project. ExtrACT is funded by MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media, a research group dedicated to developing novel web-based technologies for citizen journalism.

To get in touch with the ExtrAct team, email us at