On February 17, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PA DEP”) released a report investigating four low-magnitude earthquakes that occurred on April 25, 2016 near a well pad in Lawrence County.  The seismic events ranged in magnitude from 1.8 to 2.3 on the Richter Scale.  Because these movements were only detected by seismometers, they were considered to be “microseismic.”  Following notification by the PA DEP of this seismic activity, the driller, Hilcorp Energy Company (“Hilcorp”) immediately ceased all ongoing activity at the well site on the morning of April 25th.  The PA DEP conducted an investigation and concluded that there is no definitive geologic association, but there is a correlation in geographic location and timing.

The events leading up to the microseismic events began on March 30, 2016, when Hilcorp was engaged in hydraulic fracturing operations targeting the Utica Shale on a well pad located in Lawrence County.  Hilcorp had drilled two horizontal wells with parallel well-bores.  Hilcorp was  utilizing a technique known as “zipper fracturing.” This technique involves simultaneously allowing frac fluid to flow into both well-bores, which makes the frac fluid expand into the shale further.  The PA DEP reviewed this activity and noted that Lawrence County has a relatively shallow basement rock as compared to other Utica Shale hydraulic fracturing sites located throughout Pennsylvania.

Following its investigation, the PA DEP and Hilcorp developed a series of recommendations to monitor the operator’s activities in the area.  Such recommendations include the Hilcorp’s notification of the PA DEP within 10 minutes of any future events and the discontinuation of “zipper fracturing” in the area where wells are separated by less than a quarter of a mile.  The PA DEP will apply these recommended terms as conditions to any new permits sought by Hilcorp within the affected township as well as recommend that other operators pursuing activities in the area adhere to similar plans.  The PA DEP has made a full report and webinar available online.

SMGG’s Oil and Gas Practice Group provides a full range of services for oil and gas clients.  If you believe that your property has been affected by nearby oil and gas operations, please contact Holly Forsberg at hforsberg@smgglaw.com or (412) 281-5423.  This post is provided for informational purposes only.  Nothing in this post creates an attorney-client relationship.