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More Scientific Evidence Linking Fracking and Earthquakes

By John Daly | Wed, 27 March 2013 23:10 | 7

As the practice of hydraulic fracturing to produce natural gas continues to spread not only in the U.S. but worldwide, the scientific community has increasingly focused on the environmental consequences of the technique. The most worrisome side effect of “fracking” is the rise of earthquakes in areas where the practice is extensive.

The latest evidence comes in the form of an article in the 26 March issue of “Geology,” a publication of the Geological Society of America.

Entitled “Potentially induced earthquakes in Oklahoma, USA: Links between wastewater injection and the 2011 Mw 5.7 earthquake sequence,” the study was coauthored by University of Oklahoma Geophysics Professor Katie Keranen, U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Dr. Elizabeth Cochran and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s seismologist Dr. Heather Savage and Dr. Geoffrey Abers.

The study focused its research on seismic activity in Oklahoma over the past two years and concluded that a 4.8-magnitude earthquake centered near Prague on 5 November 2011, was "induced" by the injection wells. Two subsequent earthquakes, including a 5.7-magnitude “event” the following day, was the biggest in contemporary state history, were caused by the first earthquake and existing tectonic stresses in the earth.

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Oklahoma’s 6 November 2011 earthquake was the state’s largest recorded with modern instrumentation. Two people were injured in the quake, which destroyed 14 homes, buckled pavement and was felt in 17 states, as far north as Wisconsin.

Professor Keranen said during an interview that there is excellent seismic data to back up the paper's conclusions, stating, "The evidence that we collected supports this interpretation. We can say several things with certainty: That the earthquakes begin within hundreds of meters of the injection wells in the units they inject into, so spatially we don't have much doubt, there is a direct spatial link."

The credentials of Keranen’s coauthors are impressive. Dr. Abers is Associate Director of Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Dr.  Savage Lamont Assistant Research Director, while in October 2011 President Barack Obama named Dr. Cochran a recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers for her contributions to the understanding of earthquake physics and earthquake triggering, the physical properties and geometry of earthquake fault zones and their evolution after earthquakes, and to the development of a new method of earthquake monitoring using low-cost earthquake sensors, the “Quake-Catcher Network (QCN).”

The pair’s methodology was thorough. The paper reported that within 24 hours of the first earthquake Dr. Keranen and Oklahoma Geological Survey research seismologist Austin Holland set up seismic recorders in the area. The “Geology” study reports that 1,183 aftershocks were recorded by the seismic network and subsequently examined, of which 798 were studied closely.

Oklahoma’s official seismologist, the Geological Survey’s Austin Holland is skeptical of the link between injection wells and earthquakes, stating that more research is needed, with the OGS stating, “The interpretation that best fits current data is that the Prague Earthquake Sequence was the result of natural causes.” Holland’s view is, not surprisingly, shared by the Corporation Commission and the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, a trade group that lobbies for the interests of oil and gas producers.

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Farther afield, seismologists suspect that oil and gas activity may have triggered earthquakes in Texas, Arkansas, Colorado and Ohio. States have adopted differing approaches to the issue, but there is now no doubt that the seismic issue is beginning to impact state legislatures considering fracking activities. Regulators in Arkansas voted to ban injection wells from one particular region after a series of earthquakes rattled the state two years ago. Oil and gas regulators in Colorado now require a review by a state seismologist before injection well permits are issued, and Illinois has passed legislation requiring injection wells to stop operating if related earthquakes cause a public safety risk. But as yet earthquake risk has not impacted state fracking regulations in California, Texas, New York or Oklahoma.

In any case, it would appear that Holland and his fellow skeptics will not have long to wait to comment yet again on local earthquakes, as on 4 March the U.S. Geological Survey reported that a 3.5-magnitude earthquake struck southern Oklahoma, also centered around Prague.

In the last four years, the number of quakes in the middle of the United States surged 11-fold from the three decades prior.

Something to ponder when you read the hydrocarbon industry rubbishes the latest scientific research on fracking as “fuzzy science.”

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

Leave a comment

  • Frank Howell on March 29 2013 said:
    Why are problems related to water injection rebadged as a oil and gas fracking problem? Do they really frack the well before injecting waste water into it?
  • don on March 29 2013 said:
    Just off the cuff, there's also the Ogallala Aquifer that's been pumped down for a century, but no one has suggested any earth quake correlations. I'm skeptical.
  • JG Nelson on March 30 2013 said:
    The oil and gas industry just need to change the headline and embrace this "problem". "Hydraulic Fracking causes numerous small Earth quakes now, releasing tectonic plate stress and avoiding deadly and damaging larger quakes in the future."

    Do I have to think of everything!
  • JG Nelson on March 30 2013 said:
    The oil and gas industry just need to change the headline and embrace this "problem". "Hydraulic Fracking causes numerous small Earth quakes now, releasing tectonic plate stress and avoiding deadly and damaging larger quakes in the future."

    Do I have to think of everything!
  • Manfred on April 01 2013 said:
    Daly's long string of questionable articles attempting to link serious earthquakes with fraccing for oil and gas, is risking oilprice.com's reputation as a non-kook website.

    Wake up guys. Daly is taking you down with the wastewater.
  • John C.K. Daly on April 04 2013 said:
    Dear Manfred,

    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.

    As far as my "long string of questionable articles" go, they are buttressed with references to the U.S. Geological Survey,and the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration among other sources.

    Sorry that you find them "questionable."

    Since oilprice.con accepts outside contributions, I suggest that you write for them an article or two based on your objective information and obviously superior sources of information above and beyond the U.S. government, so as to prevent them going down the plughole.
  • Arleen Sanford on April 09 2013 said:
    What about Yellowstone, the mother of all earthquakes. If she goes, so does the US and most of the world. They are fracking ever closer to Yellowstone, which has several earthquakes a day on her own. I hope the Geo guys are giving serious consideration to the possibility of creating a natural disaster compared to a nuclear winter.

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