Chesapeake Energy obtains hydraulic fracking permit one mile from nuclear plant. BTW China owns a big chunk of Chesapeake.


27 October 2012

by

Rachel Morgan

 

 

SHIPPINGPORT — Fracking can cause small-magnitude earthquakes, experts are now saying, but nothing on the magnitude that would likely disrupt or damage a nuclear power plant.

“NRC is aware of research linking hydraulic fracturing with small to moderate earthquakes,” said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s public relations officer, David McIntyre. “The strongest of these are associated with deep-injection wastewater disposal wells, with magnitudes in the central and eastern United States around magnitude 5 or less.

“Earthquakes of these magnitudes have historically had little effect on nuclear power plants or other well-engineered structures.”

Chesapeake Energy obtained a permit for hydraulic fracking 1.06 miles from the FirstEnergy Corp. operated Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport. According to state Department of Environmental Protection records, the permit for an unconventional, horizontal well was issued to Chesapeake on Oct. 3. Drilling has not yet started.

U.S. Department of Energy officials said that there are no required setbacks specifically related to nuclear facilities, only a required 500-foot setback from any building to a well. The Chesapeake well in Shippingport would be well within those guidelines.

Following the massive earthquake damage last year to the Fukushima reactor complex in Japan, seismic activity has been a growing concern for nuclear facilities. A 2010 NRC report ranked Unit 1 at the Beaver Valley Power Station as the fifth-most vulnerable nuclear reactor in the nation to earthquake damage.

FirstEnergy officials said in a previous interview that the plant is built to withstand 5.8-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. The strongest earthquake registered in Pennsylvania was 5.2. FirstEnergy officials also said they don’t expect the newly permitted well to affect the nuclear facility.

“While we do not expect any impact from an oil and gas production well near the Beaver Valley station, our robustly designed and constructed facilities are built to withstand a wide variety of issues with considerable margin, including potential seismic events, which is the concern often cited with hydraulic fracturing,” said FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young.

Chesapeake declined to offer their own comment on the new permit, saying instead that all permit-related questions should be directed to the state DEP.

“We believe the Pennsylvania DEP is best suited to address this topic as they have a rigorous regulatory review process for all permitting,” said Chesapeake’s senior director of corporate development, Stacey Brodak.

Seismic issues have most commonly been linked to injection wastewater disposal wells, the accepted disposal method for wastewater generated from fracking. In 2011, a 4.0-magnitude earthquake in Youngstown, Ohio, was linked to activity at a Class II injection well operated by D&L Energy.

But there are some instances linking fracking with quakes.

An August 2011 report by the Oklahoma Geological Society explored possible seismic activity caused by nearby hydraulic fracturing. According to the report, nearly 50 earthquakes that occurred in Garvin County, Okla., were linked to a nearby fracking well. The earthquakes ranged in magnitude from 1.0 to 2.8 on the Richter scale.

The report says “there is a possibility these earthquakes were induced by hydraulic fracturing. However, the uncertainties in the data make it impossible to say with a high degree of certainty whether or not these earthquakes were triggered by natural means or by the nearby hydraulic fracturing operation.”

The report also said a majority of these earthquakes occurred within about two miles of the well.

Another report, issued by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012, examined the Blackpool area in northern England, which experienced a 2.3-magnitude earthquake shortly after the drilling company Cuadrilla Resources hydraulically fracked a well in April 2011. When fracking was restarted on the same well in May 2011, seismic acitvity of 1.5 magnitude was detected.

Drilling simple water wells was also recently linked to seismic activity, a new study suggests. A deadly earthquake in Spain last year was linked to farmers in the area drilling deeper and deeper wells to water their crops, the study said. Nine people died and nearly 300 were injured when the 5.1-magnitude earthquake hit the city of Lorca in May of last year. Scientists found that a fault that ran near a basin was weakened by 50 years of groundwater extraction in the area.

Scientists, however, are still divided on whether fracking near a nuclear plant is cause for concern.

“It is not a good idea to frack a well within a mile of the plant,” said John F. Stolz, professor of biological sciences and director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Stolz noted that there are 5,280 feet in a mile, and some horizontal well bores extend out more than 5,000 feet. “Hopefully the laterals (horizontal drilling pipes) are in the other direction,” he said.

John Poister, spokesman for the state DEP — the organization that issues the drilling permits — said that the depth of any horizontal well bores negates that concern.

“The actual fracking would occur more than a mile underneath a plant,” he said. “It wouldn’t even be felt on the surface. Nuke plants are designed to take direct hits from aircraft, so a small charge a mile under the surface would not be a primary concern.”

McIntyre of the NRC confirmed that fracking can induce earthquakes, but the magnitudes are usually too small to be felt.

“While the hydraulic fracturing process can potentially induce earthquakes, too, their magnitudes are typically much smaller, too small even to be felt or detected by regional seismic networks,” he said.

Albert Kollar, president of the Pittsburgh Geological Society, pointed to the tectonic plates in the area and said there was low risk of seismic activity.

“The tectonic plates that carry eastern North America (which includes the Pittsburgh-Youngstown region) are very old and deep and are not particularly tectonically active,” he said. “This is why earthquakes are so rare in this part of the country. We ride on the North American plate that is moving about 2 inches a year toward the northwestern United States. The plate rift is in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, more than 1,000 miles away.”

Kollar also said that nuclear plants are built to withstand the maximum recorded earthquake in that location, and that the seismic activity produced by fracking is very small.

Mark Engle, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist, said that there is a marked difference between injection wells and fracking wells.

“An important distinction in the case of induced seismicity or earthquakes are generally those cases where there are underground Class II injection wells,” Engle said. Class II injection wells accept waste specifically from oil and gas production, he said. “There are tens of thousands of injection wells in the United States. So in the case of induced seismicity, these are wells that are taking in fluid constantly, injected with fluids for a period of time – months, years, decades.”

In the case of injection wells, fluid can migrate into nearby fractures and fault zones, which relieves pressure inside the fault and allows slippage to occur, Engle said.

“This is a very different process in general than hydraulic fracturing,” he said. “You do inject fluid (in fracking) for a period of time, but then it’s essentially pulled back out. “

Engle also said that “microearthquakes” have been associated with fracking, but they are usually magnitude 1 or 2.

Engle said he hasn’t seen evidence that links fracking and higher bigger earthquakes.

“To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a link to hydraulic fracturing and a sizeable earthquake, as opposed to injection wells,” Engle said. “It hasn’t proven to be a serious issue at this point.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: