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Ohio Mayor Buys Quake Insurance as He Seeks Answers on Fracking

The mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, says he wonders whether a well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and natural-gas drilling is making his city shake. Just to be safe, he’s bought earthquake insurance.

“You lose your whole house, that’s your life savings, and if you have no money or no insurance to replace it, then what do you do?” Mayor Charles P. Sammarone said in a telephone interview today. “Information is needed to make the homeowner and the residents feel safe.”

There have been 11 earthquakes in this northeastern Ohio city since D&L Energy Inc. began injecting drilling brine, a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, 9,200 feet (2,804 meters) underground in December 2010. The strongest, magnitude 4.0, hit last week on New Year’s Eve.

Sammarone said he has asked the City Council to pass a resolution tonight supporting state Representative Robert F. Hagan, a city Democrat who has called for a moratorium on so-called fracking and injection-well activity “until we can conclude it’s safe.”

Republican Governor John Kasich and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources consider the earthquakes isolated occurrences that are being addressed, said Rob Nichols, a gubernatorial spokesman. Injections will continue at the other 177 such wells without interrupting shale-gas development that may produce thousands of jobs, he said.

“We are not going to stand by and let someone drive a stake through the heart of what could be an economic revival in Eastern Ohio,” Nichols said yesterday in a telephone interview.

Brick House

The Natural Resources Department said the company agreed to stop operations at the Youngstown well Dec. 30 after data showed the earthquakes were occurring nearby at the depth of the injections. After the Dec. 31 quake, the state ordered work suspended and put on hold proposals for four other wells within a five-mile radius pending further study, Nichols said.

Sammarone said he hopes state officials will give the city more information next week. He decided to buy a policy on his one-story brick house after the Dec. 31 quake because before March, there was no recorded seismic activity in the city.

“About 3 o’clock, there was a loud bang that lasted, I don’t know, a couple seconds, and then all of sudden, the house started shaking and stuff fell off the wall,” he said. “It seemed like it lasted forever, but it was probably eight, 10 seconds. But it was very scary because we’re not used to that.”

“Two days later, on Monday, I called my insurance man and got earthquake insurance.”

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