LINK TO NPR ARTICLE ON THE 2010 QUAKE OUTBREAK
"The main area where earthquake risk is a little bit above the rest of the state is more in the southeastern part, which made us notice when earthquakes started occurring in Braxton County; that's generally a quiet area as far as seismic activity," said Hohn.
Hohn says most of the earthquakes have had around a 2.7 magnitude, which he says is not enough to cause damage but enough for people to feel them.
"One was described to me as feeling like a car had hit their house," Hohn explained. "They're disconcerting to experience."
The earthquakes at first puzzled local residents, including Ed Given.
Given was born and raised in Braxton County and now publishes the Braxton Citizens' News. He'd never heard of earthquakes in his home county, so he started wonder what was going on.
"The only thing I could think of that had really made any change was the operation that was going on at Frametown, which at the time I didn't know anything about, other than it was there. You could see the holding tanks from the road and that's all you could see," Given said.
After some research, Given learned that the tanks hold water used in natural gas drilling. The Department of Environmental Protection has permitted Chesapeake Energy to use a nearby well to dispose of the drilling fluid. DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco says the agency is now in discussion with Chesapeake Energy to try to determine whether the injection well is causing the earthquakes.
"We don't have any conclusive evidence to connect the two as of this point," Cosco said. "The only thing we have to go on is there have been incidents similar to this in other states related to underground injection wells, one in Texas and one in Arkansas."
Cosco says the company is still using the well to dispose of water from Marcellus gas drilling.
She also says local wells have not been tested to see if the earthquakes have caused the disposal well to crack or leak fluid.
Ed Given says the company has already injected about ten million gallons of drilling fluid into the well since spring of 2009.
"They can put as much water in the ground in Frametown, West Virginia as it will hold, as long as the static pressure at the well head does not exceed 2100 pounds; that could be astronomical. Both of the geologists I have talked with at length say Frametown is vulnerable because that site sits directly on top of a fault," Given said.
Geologist Michael Hohn says, although it's unusual, normally static faults and fractures deep below the earth's surface can move when liquid is injected underground.
"It's more than just lubricating the fault face, but it has a similar effect of essentially making it possible for the earthquake to take place, for the fault to move slightly," said Hohn.
Given says if this is what's happening in Braxton County, then other areas should take notice. As our nation's huge energy appetite continues and natural gas helps to feed it, much more drilling in the Marcellus shale formation is expected.
"Tapping that Marcellus shale for that benefit for our society is a great thing, but when you start putting millions of gallons of water under pressure in the ground, I don't think you have to be a geologist to think something's going to happen," Given said.
Given says Chesapeake is taking him on a tour of its Frametown well site this week.
The company did not respond immediately to our questions for this story.