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Professor Chris Rhodes

Professor Chris Rhodes

Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to…

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Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?

Hydraulic Fracturing, known as "frac'ing" in the industry, has made another unwelcome appearance in the media, in which the process is termed "fracking", where it is reported that the procedure may cause earthquakes. Essentially, water containing a surfactant and various other chemicals is injected under high pressure into a source rock e.g. shale, causing the latter to fracture and release natural gas (principally methane). It is hoped that fracking will provide 45% of the U.S. gas by 2035, although the jury remains "out" on its safety aspects, awaiting the conclusions of studies by the University of Texas and by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In Europe, fracking is set to be adopted widely, particularly in Poland which has significant reserves of gas-shale, while in France, which is similarly well resourced, reservations over groundwater contamination by fracking are sufficiently strident that the country has vowed not to adopt the method. France indeed produces almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, while other EU nations rely far more on fossil fuels and for whom gas is a more important ingredient of their energy-mix, including the UK.

In the inauguration of a pilot study offshore near the famous holiday resort of Blackpool, renowned for its "sticks of rock" and big-dipper rides, in the North-West of the United Kingdom, an unexpected side-effect of fracking has been identified, namely an earthquake of magnitude 2.3 which has reinforced some disquiet as to the safety of the procedure. Commercial fracking is presently banned not only in France, but in New York and Pennsylvania states, from where there is footage available on YouTube of residents setting fire to their drinking water in consequence of the high levels of methane gas in it arising from neighbouring fracking operations.

Now it appears there may be another hazard associated with the process, which is reminiscent of the discovery made in Switzerland a couple of years back that pumping water deep into hot rocks to extract geothermal energy can also cause earthquakes. It is thought that the UK operation will be put on hold for several weeks while the British Geological Survey considers the situation, but given the potential importance of fracking as a substantial contribution to world future energy needs, it is almost certain that it will not be abandoned.

By. Professor Chris Rhodes

Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to become the youngest professor of physical chemistry in the U.K. at the age of 34.
A prolific author, Chris has published more than 400 research and popular science articles (some in national newspapers: The Independent and The Daily Telegraph)
He has recently published his first novel, "University Shambles" was published in April 2009 (Melrose Books).
http://universityshambles.com


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  • Anonymous on June 03 2011 said:
    Why not look to oil drilling for that answer? We've got 80-100 years of drilling holes in the Earth and records of resulting tremors.Then look at the strength of those tremors. Do they occur at a level which is actually problematic? How far away from existing buildings would wells have to be to avoid structural damage? (Non-structural damage can be minimized with planning.)The Bern Switzerland hot rock well was problematic because the hole was fracked close to a city which had not been adequately retrofitted for earthquake resistance. In spite of a history of 'natural' earthquakes.The question is not whether fracking makes the Earth move. It does, at least sometimes. The question is how we work around that problem.(BTW, hot rock rather than natural gas gets my vote. Big time.)
  • Anonymous on June 08 2011 said:
    [quote name="Bob Wallace"]Why not look to oil drilling for that answer? We've got 80-100 years of drilling holes in the Earth and records of resulting tremors.Then look at the strength of those tremors. Do they occur at a level which is actually problematic? How far away from existing buildings would wells have to be to avoid structural damage? (Non-structural damage can be minimized with planning.)The Bern Switzerland hot rock well was problematic because the hole was fracked close to a city which had not been adequately retrofitted for earthquake resistance. In spite of a history of 'natural' earthquakes.The question is not whether fracking makes the Earth move. It does, at least sometimes. The question is how we work around that problem.(BTW, hot rock rather than natural gas gets my vote. Big time.)[/quote] Bob seems to advocate both-and rather than either-or. If so, I agree.
  • Anonymous on June 09 2011 said:
    Careful, some of those "residents setting fire to their drinking water" were doing so before the fracking operations. Their water has always had high levels of methane.http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/04/the-gasland-movie-a-fracking-shame-director-pulls-video-to-hide-inconvenient-truths/
  • Anonymous on June 10 2011 said:
    If it is true that high levels of methane are occurring naturally, then individual water wells should be capped and, a process plant should be built to remove methane from said water so as to utilize its energy content instead of wasting it. Another problem with individual water wells is, the water from some of them could have excessive levels of arsenic. Here too, centralized processing of well water to remove said element would be better for people's health.
  • Anonymous on June 10 2011 said:
    Intentionally setting off small quakes to prevent larger quakes sounds like a good idea.
  • Anonymous on July 12 2011 said:
    Pennsylvania has not banned fracking, nor has New York. However, the Shale gas drillers are holding a convention in Philadelphia in September. It'll be interesting to see what sort of response the anti-fracking contingent offers. I only hope the press will show both sides of the story.

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