Earthquakes Tied to Fracking Boom, Two New Studies Confirm
Oklahoma was never big earthquake country, but in the last six years their numbers have surged, going from an average of two a year over 3.0 magnitude to 538 last year, surpassing California as the U.S.'s most seismically active state. Regions in Texas and Ohio that rarely felt an earthquake are now seeing wave after wave of them; eight states overall have seen big increases.
Studies keep showing that the earthquakes start happening when wastewater from fracking is injected underground. Scientists say it's because those large quantities of water, forced underground by heavy pressure, activate dormant fault lines. Now two more such studies have been added to the pile of evidence.
One of the studies, published in the journal Science, comes from a team of scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The largest study to date, they analyzed information on earthquakes and 180,000 injection wells from Colorado to the east coast. They tied 18,000 of the wells, primarily in Colorado and Oklahoma, to earthquakes.
“This is the first study to look at correlations between injection wells and earthquakes on a broad, nearly national scale,” said University of Colorado doctoral student Matthew Weingarten, the study's lead author. “We saw an enormous increase in earthquakes associated with these high-rate injection wells, especially since 2009, and we think the evidence is convincing that the earthquakes we are seeing near injection sites are induced by oil and gas activity.”
They found that "high-rate" injection wells, which pumped more than 300,000 gallons of water a month underground, were more likely to cause tremors than low-rate wells and that wastewater injection wells were more likely to cause earthquakes than so-called "oil recovery" wells which inject fluid to push remaining oil out of depleted wells. They also found that injection wells were tied to earthquakes ranging from 4.7 to 5.6 magnitude in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas in 2011 and 2012.
"People can’t control the geology of a region or the scale of seismic stress,” said Weingarten. “But managing rates of fluid injection may help decrease the likelihood of induced earthquakes in the future."
The second study, published last week in the journal Science Advances, was done by a pair of geologists at Stanford University. They looked specifically at the increased seismicity in certain areas of Oklahoma that rarely saw earthquakes before 2009—"no state has experienced a more significant increase in seismicity in recent years than Oklahoma," they said. They found that it followed big increases in wastewater water from drilling operations that was injected into underground wells nearby.
"The number of small- to moderate-sized earthquakes in much of the central and eastern United States began to increase markedly around 2009," the study noted. "Some of this seismicity appears to be associated with increases in saltwater disposal that originates as 'flow-back' water after multistage hydraulic fracturing operations. Over the past five years, parts of Oklahoma have experienced marked increases in the number of small- to moderate-sized earthquakes. In three study areas that encompass the vast majority of the recent seismicity, we show that the increases in seismicity follow five- to 10-fold increases in the rates of saltwater disposal. Adjacent areas where there has been relatively little saltwater disposal have had comparatively few recent earthquakes."
In Oklahoma in particular, there has been pushback from the state's powerful oil and gas sector, which has tried to silence scientists speaking out about the tremors. State seismologist Austin Holland was called into a meeting with oil and gas billionaire Harold Hamm, head of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources; Hamm is frequently referred to as the founding father of fracking.
“Holland had been studying possible links between a rise in seismic activity in Oklahoma and the rapid increase in oil and gas production, the state’s largest industry,” reported Bloomberg. “Hamm requested that Holland be careful when publicly discussing the possible connection between oil and gas operations and a big jump in the number of earthquakes, which geological researchers were increasingly tying to the underground disposal of oil and gas wastewater, a byproduct of the fracking boom that Continental has helped pioneer.”
Holland said that the Stanford study was a major factor in the recent statement issued by the Oklahoma Geological Survey, for which Holland works, saying it was "very likely" that the earthquakes there are due to the injection of water into deep injection wells.
"The Stanford scientists' findings were carefully considered before we issued the statement, and contributed to the scientific credibility of the statement," said Holland.
"We've been waiting for exactly this type of study," said Oklahoma's Secretary of Energy & Environment Michael Teague. "These findings help us understand the case better so that we can evaluate options that we can take to go forward in finding ways to reduce the quakes."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Britain's Prince William interviewed famed broadcaster David Attenborough on Tuesday at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Switzerland.
During the sit-down, the 92-year-old naturalist advised the world leaders and business elite gathered in Davos this week that we must respect and protect the natural world, adding that the future of its survival—as well as humanity's survival—is in our hands.
What's more, the accounting firm predicts that another 21 million electric cars will be on the road globally over the next decade due to growing market demand for clean transportation, government subsidies, as well as bans on fossil fuel cars.
By Matthew Savoca
Plastic pollution in the world's oceans has become a global environmental crisis. Many people have seen images that seem to capture it, such as beaches carpeted with plastic trash or a seahorse gripping a cotton swab with its tail.
Greenland is melting about four times faster than it was in 2003, a new study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, a discovery with frightening implications for the pace and extent of future sea level rise.
"We're going to see faster and faster sea level rise for the foreseeable future," study lead author and Ohio State University geodynamics professor Dr. Michael Bevis said in a press release. "Once you hit that tipping point, the only question is: How severe does it get?"
Finally, some good news about the otherwise terrible partial government shutdown. A federal judge ruled that the Trump administration cannot issue permits to conduct seismic testing during the government impasse.
The Justice Department sought to delay—or stay—a motion filed by a range of coastal cities, businesses and conservation organizations that are suing the Trump administration over offshore oil drilling, Reuters reported. The department argued that it did not have the resources it needed to work on the case due to the shutdown.
Most people have heard of the Amazon, South America's famed rainforest and hub of biological diversity. Less well known, though no less critical, is the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland.
Like the Amazon, the Pantanal is ecologically important and imperiled. Located primarily in Brazil, it also stretches into neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay. Covering an area larger than England at more than 70,000 square miles, the massive wetland provides irreplaceable ecosystem services that include the regulation of floodwaters, nutrient renewal, river flow for navigability, groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration. The wetland also supports the economies of the four South American states it covers.
By Andrea Germanos
Organizers said 35,000 people marched through the streets of the German capital on Saturday to say they're "fed up" with industrial agriculture and call for a transformation to a system that instead supports the welfare of the environment, animals and rural farmers.
By Patrick Rogers
If you have ever considered making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric vehicle, don't drag your feet. Though EV prices are falling, and states are unveiling more and more public charging stations and plug-in-ready parking spots, the federal government is doing everything it can to slam the brakes on our progress away from gas-burning internal combustion engines. President Trump, likely pressured by his allies in the fossil fuel industry, has threatened to end the federal tax credits that have already helped put hundreds of thousands of EVs on the road—a move bound to harm not only our environment but our economy, too. After all, the manufacturing and sale of EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids supported 197,000 jobs in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Energy and Employment Report.