Gov. John Kasich, who has touted the boom in drilling for oil and gas in eastern Ohio as an economic bonanza, is taking a cautious stance on whether it also is to blame for a wave of earthquakes in the greater Youngstown area.
Kasich said March 14 that state officials are continuing to review data from the most recent earthquakes, which occurred earlier this month south of Lowellville in Mahoning County, to determine if they could have been caused by the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing -- better known as fracking.
"As soon as we have all the data, we'll be able to make a decision about what we need to do," he said. "At this point, we've taken precautions."
Five earthquakes -- ranging in magnitude from 2.1 to 3 on the Richter scale -- occurred in Lowellville. Seismic activity in the area has indicated that 11 earthquakes have occurred there since the beginning of March.
A more serious earthquake in the Youngstown area that measured 3.9 on the Richter scale occurred on Dec. 31, 2011. It was felt in Portage County.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources ordered Hilcorp Energy Co. to halt all operations in Poland Township, where two earthquakes occurred last week. The epicenter was directly below a site where the firm has an active oil and gas well. Several others also are being drilled there.
Kasich has backed ODNR's decision. "We've got to determine what the cause is," he said. "We know this industry is critical to us. It's creating a lot of wealth and significant jobs, so we don't want to overreact, but we're not going to under-react, because I believe you can have very, very strong environmental protections and still have an industry that's going to be very positive for the state."
Those living in the vicinity of the earthquakes may feel differently. The 2011 quake was the first ever experienced in Youngstown. The subsequent incidents, which appear to be occurring at an accelerated rate, can't help but add to the concerns of those who continue to question the environmental impact of fracking. The issue of safety appears to be another valid concern.
The governor remains optimistic about the economic benefits of oil and gas exploration in Ohio. He might think differently about "overreacting" if he lived in Youngstown, near a drilling operation.