COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The operator of a northeast Ohio deep-injection well tied to earthquakes in the area has yet to receive the state clearance it says is necessary to conduct independent seismic research aimed at proving the well wasn't the cause of the quakes.
Documents show D&L Energy in Youngstown sought state permission in February to re-open the shuttered well - after plugging it to a shallower depth - and then to measure the vibrations for its analysis. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has yet to respond, in what could signal a permanent delay.
D&L closed the Youngstown well after a New Year's Eve quake reached 4.0 magnitude. The state then imposed a moratorium on deep-injection drilling near the site, halting regional disposal of millions of gallons of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas or oil and other forms of drilling.
ODNR spokesman Carlo LoParo said Friday the state can't approve the request as long as the indefinite moratorium is in place.
A March 9 state report tied the well to the quakes and imposed new state regulations on deep-injection activity.
The state review pointed to previously unidentified fault lines under the well site, which reached 8,000 to 9,000 feet below ground, as the likely source of the quakes. Smaller tremblers had been occurring over the well's first year or so of operation, but it wasn't until back-to-back quakes on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve that the issue grabbed widespread public attention.
D&L had said it would hire its own independent consultants to study the earthquakes, with the hope of disproving any link and getting the year-old well re-opened.
Company spokesman Vince Bevacqua said D&L is still waiting for the agency's guidance on its Feb. 28 letter.
In it, the company proposed procedures its consultants, Schlumberger Reservoir Group and Microseismic Inc., would undertake to plug North Star No. 1 in Youngstown to a shallower depth, re-start operations, and monitor for seismic activity going forward. The letter also addressed procedures at three other wells the company operates within a 7-mile radius.
Bevacqua said in an e-mail that the company's independent studies "would proceed contingent on ODNR's approval." He declined to interpret the delay as a bad sign for the well's future.
"D&L makes no assumption about ODNR's intentions and continues to work cooperatively with the agency pending the resolution of these matters," he said in an e-mail.
LoParo said that shouldn't stop D&L from seeking answers about the quakes.
"They can conduct a comprehensive review of their well regarding the activity that occurred in the past year, and all possible induced seismic activity, without state approval," he said. "It is their well, it is their property. If they want to analyze the geography surrounding the well, if they want to analyze the well itself, collect core samples, study previous injection, they're certainly free to go with that."
State e-mails from Gov. John Kasich's office show the Kasich administration was scrambling in the wee hours of Jan. 1 to understand what had occurred in Youngstown. Officials sought to balance the Republican governor's interest in encouraging lucrative shale gas exploration in the state against the public's fear.
The documents show ODNR spokesman Andy Ware reached out to reporters to make clear that deep-injection drilling and hydraulic fracturing were two different things. At the same time, in other statements, the department made links between the two.
"The Department will continue to emphasize that a statewide moratorium on disposal injection wells would be imprudent given that only one operational well is connected to seismic events, and that such an over-reaction would be devastating to the largest job-creating industry now building in Ohio," Ware wrote.