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When a 4.0 earthquake likely caused by fracking waste injected into a fault line occurred in Youngstown on New Year's Eve, one of the residents whose home was shaken by the quake was state Rep. Robert Hagan.
The veteran Democratic lawmaker from Youngstown has a well-earned reputation for being outspoken so it's no surprise that Hagan has taken the lead in calling for a moratorium on injecting waste deep into the ground and asking pointed questions about the incident..
At a Jan. 10 statehouse protest to support the moratorium on waste disposal wells, Hagan told the crowd that the earthquake had raised a number of questions including why Gov. John Kasich's administration did not react more quickly to 10 smaller earthquakes which had struck the Youngstown area in the 10 months preceding the New Year’s Eve shake-up.
The Democratic lawmaker even seemed to lay the blame for the quake at the feet of Kasich.
"We never had an earthquake in Youngstown until John Kasich was elected Governor," Hagan said.
Hagan's claim shook up the sensors at the Politifact Ohio monitoring center. Was Youngstown really earthquake-free until John Kasich became the state's chief executive on Jan. 10, 2011?
We contacted Hagan who said he consulted a map of earthquakes in Ohio produced by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources before he made his comment. "Sure, there's been some minor seismic activity, but earthquakes -- which is a 2.0 (on the Richter Scale) or better -- haven't happened until the past year," Hagan said. "That's what ODNR's own map shows."
We checked with ODNR and the state's seismic monitoring system -- which has only been in place since about 1999 hasn't detected any earthquakes in the Youngstown area prior to March 2011. "We have not recorded a significantly felt seismic event in Youngstown since the networks were put in place about 1999," said Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesman Carlo LoParo.
Prior to the monitoring equipment being in place, ODNR’s record of historical earthquakes in Ohio relies on other monitoring systems such as those done by the U.S. Geological Survey and accounts from newspaper reports. And those don't show any earthquakes in Youngstown.
However, LoParo said there have been other earthquakes nearby that were felt in Youngstown. "There have been some significant earthquakes in Ashtabula, Summit County and Mercer County, Pennsylvania that were felt across northeast Ohio and in Youngstown," LoParo said.
Youngstown State professor Jeffrey Dick, the chair of the school’s Geological and Environmental Sciences Department, also confirmed that Youngstown itself has been a quiet zone seismically before the recent series of earthquakes thought to be linked to the injection well.
"Earthquakes in this part of Ohio are pretty uncommon," he said. "The reason is that underneath the ground in this part of the state is what's known as the Grenville Province -- it's a body of rock that is sometimes known as the Precambrian basement rock of Ohio. And it doesn't have major structural features that would cause earthquakes." Dick said he wasn't aware of any earthquakes centered in Youngstown prior to the recent series linked to the injection well.
He said most earthquakes in Ohio run along major fault lines, such as one running under eastern Lake Erie waters or another in western Ohio centered around Shelby County, not far from the Indiana border.
Indeed, it looks like Hagan is right that earthquakes haven't come to Youngstown before March 2011 when Kasich was governor.
But regardless of the timing of the quakes, Hagan makes a rhetorical stretch to imply that the earthquake happened because Kasich was governor.
The injection wells are not something that Kasich is the first governor to allow -- they have been around for several decades. And Kasich did not weaken regulations on drilling regulations or do anything that could be construed as making it more likely the earthquake would happen.
In fact, state regulators have said the company that owns the Youngstown well -- D&L Energy -- was not violating its permit by injecting too much waste or injecting it too quickly into the ground.
So let’s drill down to the core here:
- Hagan spoke at a rally to support a moratorium banning the deep well injection of fracking waste after an 4.0 earthquake linked to the practice struck Youngstown on New Year's Eve. At the rally, Hagan linked the earthquakes to the Kasich administration saying, "We never had an earthquake in Youngstown until John Kasich was governor."
- ODNR officials as well as an expert on the Mahoning Valley's geology confirm that earthquakes have never occurred in Youngstown prior to a series that began in March 2011.
- But even though Hagan is right about the quakes only began when Kasich was governor, its hyperbole to suggest that Kasich is somehow directly responsible for the earthquakes.
Earthquakes linked to injection wells are relatively rare occurrences, so it seems that the Kasich administration is probably more unlucky than anything to be in charge when it happened.
We’ll give Hagan a point for his geologic accuracy, but he can’t shake the fact that Kasich isn’t the cause of the quakes.
On the Truth-O-Meter, we rate his claim Half True.
Cleveland Scene, "Anti-frackers rally at the Ohio statehouse," Jan. 10, 2012
Phone Interview with Carlo LoParo, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Jan. 17 and Jan 19, 2012
Phone Interviews with State Rep. Robert Hagan, Jan. 18 and Jan. 19, 2012
Phone Interview with Jeffrey Dick, chair of the Geological and Environmental Sciences Department at Youngstown State University, Jan. 19, 2012
The Plain Dealer via Cleveland.com, "Youngstown earthquake raises issues on oil field wastes from shale exploration," Jan. 16, 2012
Ohio Department of Natural Resources, map of earthquake epicenters in Ohio
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