COOPERSTOWN — A federally-funded seismic monitoring station being installed on a farm field in Middlefield has sparked both public curiosity and concern from anti-fracking activists who say they wonder if the research will help the energy industry find sites for injection wells.
But a representative of the program, the USArray, told The Daily Star the project is simply aimed at helping geologists fine-tune their understanding of the structure of the faults that crisscross deep within the planet and that developed to relieve the stress of tectonic motion. USArray is a component of Earthscope, a national project aimed at increasing knowledge of the structure and evolution of the North American continent.
The spokeswoman, Perle Dorr, said the research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, has no ties to the oil and gas industry. She also said that none of its funding comes from any private industry sources.
However, Dorr acknowledged that researchers for the gas industry, or any other industry, for that matter, could use the data that is generated by USArray, as it is in the public domain.
Otsego County Rep. Beth Rosenthal, D-Roseboom, said some members of the group Middlefield Neighbors, which played a seminal role in enacting one of New York’s first town-wide fracking bans two years ago, are expected to air their concerns about the project tonight at the Middlefield Town Board meeting.
“Some people think that New York state is poised to become the recipient of fracking waste,” said Rosenthal, who is aligned with the anti-drilling group Sustainable Otsego. She said there has been speculation that the seismic monitoring could be done to create a baseline of information in the event that injection wells are introduced to the region.
Kelly Branigan of Middlfield, one of the founding members of Middlefield Neighbors, said local residents learned of the project only recently after a truck used by workmen on the seismometer broke down near her home. She said she and her husband had an encounter with the crew members and urged them to disclose whether the project had anything to do with the drilling. Though they denied that it did, she said their evasive responses caused her to become suspicious.
Just last week, NBC News reported that research by seismologists examining earthquake tremors in Ohio in 2011 suggest they were linked to the injection of fracking fluids.
“Earthquakes were triggered by fluid injections shortly after the injection initiated — less than two weeks,” researcher Won-Young Kim, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades told NBC. “Previously, we knew (of) unusual earthquakes around Youngstown, Ohio. If we had better seismographic station coverage, or if we were more careful, we could have caught those early events.”
While data gathered by the USArray project would of interest to those researching potential links between drilling and seismic activity, the network of seismology stations is not being created for that purpose, said J. Ramon Arrowsmith, a researcher with the Arizona State University School of Earth & Space Exploration. He has also been involved in the USArray research.
Arrowsmith said the planning for the Earthscope project began about 15 years ago and it is purely coincidental that the seismometer is being situated in Middlefield at the time the gas industry has been pressuring New York officials to allow it to frack the Marcellus Shale region.
Middlefield Town Supervisor David Bliss said he has seen no indication of any connection between the seismology station off Springfield Hill Road and any activity relating to injection wells or fracking.
Rosenthal said she looked into whether any local permits were needed in order to install the monitor station and was advised by Otsego County Planner Karen Sullivan that local governments had no jurisdiction over the research project.
The monitoring devices will be in the ground for 18 to 24 months before they are removed, officials said.