Seismologists: Underground Liquid Causing Northeast Ohio Quakes

CLEVELAND (AP) - Columbia University seismologists say dozens of earthquakes in the northeast corner of Ohio have been triggered by millions of gallons of liquid that were injected into a mile-deep well.

Seismologists Leonardo Seeber and Thomas Armbruster began studying the earthquakes within hours of the first reported temblor July 13, 1987, near the Ashtabula Township well.

Michael Hansen, chief seismologist for the state of Ohio, was skeptical about their theory but now says there is no other plausible explanation.

"I don't see any other real alternative," Hansen told The Plain Dealer .

The Columbia seismologists say the well has not caused earthquakes but has triggered earthquakes that were "waiting to happen." It's impossible to say whether it would have taken a year or 100,000 years to set the ground rumbling there.

Armbruster said they found two faults that are producing the earthquakes. One is less than a half-mile from the well.

The fault that caused an earthquake that measured 4.5 in magnitude last January and more than a dozen smaller ones since then is about three miles long and runs roughly parallel to the Lake Erie shore, about three miles south of the well.

Officials for Reserve Environmental Services have said there is no connection between the company's well and the earthquakes.

Company President Yogi Chokshi said a seismic survey done in 1993 showed that there was no link.

The company stopped injecting fluids into the well in 1993 after the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency refused to renew its operating license. The company capped the well the following year.

Seeber and Armbruster say capping the well did not end Ashtabula's earthquakes because the liquid, mostly diluted hydrochloric acid, was still underground, under pressure and migrating outward from the site.

Armbruster said Ashtabula could experience an earthquake as strong as 5.0 in magnitude, a measurement based on a variation of the well-known Richter scale, that would be 10 times as intense as the 4.5 temblor last January.

"The 4.5 in January caused some minor damage," Armbruster said. "You make something a little stronger than that, you'll see quite a bit more."

The Jan. 25 earthquake was centered in Lake Erie and caused objects to fall off shelves and put small cracks in walls and pavement but did not cause any reported injuries.

Ashtabula County is preparing an addendum to its emergency preparedness plans to deal with a large earthquake, said Edward Somppi, director of the county Emergency Management Agency.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)