No Tie to Frac’ing in VA Earthquake

An earthquake that occurred in August, 2011 in Virginia was determined to have no connection to nearby frac'ing of the Marcellus Shale. While the Marcellus Shale extends from upstate New York to the Blue Ridge Mountains, drilling is active in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

"Let's be very clear: fracking did not cause the Virginia earthquake," said Christopher "Chuck" Bailey, professor and chairman of the geology department at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg.

The nearest active Marcellus wells to the quake's epicenter in Mineral — about 45 miles northwest of Richmond — are roughly 100 miles away in West Virginia. Bailey and other scientists said those wells could not have induced the 5.8 magnitude tremor.

"It's impossible," said David Spears, a geologist with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. "The kinds of pressure required to cause something like that can't be transmitted over those distances from fracking."

While uncommon, earthquakes occur in Virginia. The most powerful recorded was a 5.9 quake in 1897 in Giles County, which is located within one of the state's two historically active quake zones. The other — an oval-shaped 40-mile swath between Richmond and Charlottesville — includes Mineral.

The shifting of fault lines 2.5 to 3 miles underneath Mineral caused the quake, Bailey said. The temblor sent waves pulsating through the ground at nearly 4 miles per second. It toppled buildings in Louisa County and damaged structures as far away as the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is trying to make Virginia the "energy capital of the East Coast," supports all types of frac'ing for natural gas. At least one company has leased land in Rockingham County to tap into the Marcellus Shale reserve.