CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A 4.0 magnitude earthquake in on New Year's Eve did not occur naturally and may have been caused by high-pressure liquid injection related to oil and gas exploration and production, an expert hired by the state of Ohio said on Tuesday.
Ohio's Department of Natural Resources on Sunday suspended operations at five deep well sites in Youngstown, Ohio, where the injection of water was taking place, while they evaluate seismological data from a rare quake in the area.
The wells are about 9,000 feet deep and are used to dispose of water from oil and gas wells. The process is related to fracking, the controversial injection of chemical-laced water and sand into rock to release oil and gas. Critics say that the high pressure injection of the liquid causes seismic activity.
Won-Young Kim, a research professor of Seismology Geology and Tectonophysics at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that circumstantial evidence suggests a link between the earthquake and the high-pressure well activity.
"We know the depth (of the quake on Saturday) is two miles and that is different from a natural earthquake," said Kim, who is advising the state of Ohio.
Data collected from four seismographs set up in November in the area confirm a connection between the quakes and water pressure at the well, Kim said.
"There is circumstantial evidence to connect the two -- in the past we didn't have earthquakes in the area and the proximity in the time and space of the earthquakes matches operations at the well," he said.