Quantcast
Energy

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.

Clusters of earthquakes in Oklahoma have occurred in the areas with multiple injection wells. Image credit: Science Advances

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

8 States Dealing With Huge Increases in Fracking Earthquakes

Confirmed: Oklahoma Earthquakes Caused By Fracking

Staggering Rise in Fracking Earthquakes Triggers Kansas to Take Action

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Popular
Desperate for water, Puerto Ricans are resorting to any available sources, such as this stream in Cayey. Angel Valentin / NPR

Desperate Puerto Ricans Are Drinking Water From Hazardous Waste Sites

The ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee called for an investigation into the availability of potable water in Puerto Rico following reports Friday that residents are scrounging for water from hazardous waste sites.

After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed residents were trying to access water from three Superfund sites, and following a CNN story Friday featuring Puerto Ricans taking water from a fourth site, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wrote a letter to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke asking if she knew about the situation and calling the reports "beyond disturbing."

Keep reading... Show less
Brant at Izembek Lagoon. Kristine Sowl / USFWS

Groups Slam Zinke's 'Backroom Deals' to Build Road Through Alaskan Wildlife Refuge

Ryan Zinke's Interior Department is working behind the scenes to build a controversial and long-contested road through the heart of Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, documents show.

The refuge was established more than 30 years ago to conserve wetlands and habitats for migrating birds, brown bears and salmon and other wildlife. 300,000 of its 315,000 acres has been designated as Wilderness in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Keep reading... Show less
FAO / Giulio Piscitelli

On World Food Day, Pope Francis Says Link Between Climate Change and Hunger Is Undeniable

By Andrew McMaster

Speaking at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on World Food Day, Pope Francis addressed the need for governments around the world to acknowledge that climate change and migration were leading to increases in world hunger.

Francis received a standing ovation after a stirring speech in which he said all three issues were interrelated and require immediate attention.

Keep reading... Show less
The pallid bat is native to the western U.S., where the spread of white-nose syndrome is a threat. Ivan Kuzmin / Shutterstock

Why Are America's Bats Disappearing?

By John R. Platt

It's Friday evening in Pittsburgh, and the mosquitoes are out in force. One bites at my arm and I try to slap it away. Another takes the opportunity to land on my neck. I manage to shoo this one off before it tastes blood.

I'm at Carrie Furnaces, a massive historic ironworks on the banks of Pennsylvania's Monongahela River. Stories-tall rusting structures loom all around me, as do the occasional trees poking their way out of the ground. A tour guide, leading a group from the Society of Environmental Journalists conference, tells me the soil here is full of heavy metals and other pollutants from the factory, which operated for nearly a century before closing in 1982.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
The Amur tiger is the extinct Caspian tiger's closest living relative. Mathias Appel / Flickr

After a Half-Century, Tigers May Return to Kazakhstan

Wild tigers may be on their way back to Kazakhstan.

This news is surprising for a few reasons. First, most people associate tigers with the jungles of India or Sumatra, even the snowy slopes of eastern Russia—not the dry landscapes of Central Asia. But Iran, Turkey and Kazakhstan were once home to thriving populations of Caspian tigers. Unfortunately, sometime between the 1940s and '70s, this subspecies went extinct due to widespread trapping, hunting, poisoning and habitat degradation.

Second, Kazakhstan isn't a nation that often comes up in conversations about conservation. In fact, if Americans recognize the world's largest landlocked nation for anything, it's probably the movie Borat.

Keep reading... Show less
www.youtube.com

California Wildfires: One of 'Greatest Tragedies' State Has Ever Faced

With aid from easing winds, the 11,000 firefighters beating back the Northern California wildfires are making "good progress," as the number of major blazes dropped to 15, the state's fire agency Cal Fire announced Sunday.

But as Cal Fire noted‚ "Sadly, the death toll has risen to 40 people."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Bonn Climate Change Conference, June 4 2015. UNclimatechange / Flickr.

UN Urges World Leaders to Heed Climate Risk, Warns of More Severe Disasters

By Paul Brown

The hurricanes and wildfires that have severely damaged large areas of the U.S. in recent weeks have had no impact on President Donald Trump's determination to ignore the perils of climate change and support the coal industry.

In a deliberate denial of mainstream science, the Trump administration has issued a strategic four-year plan for the U.S. Environment Protection Agency that does not once mention "greenhouse gas emissions," "carbon dioxide" or "climate change" in its 48 pages.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
www.youtube.com

Oil Rig Explodes in Louisiana: 7 Injured, 1 Missing

An oil rig exploded on Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana Sunday night, injuring seven crew members, with an eighth believed to be missing, authorities said.

The explosion was reported at 7:18 p.m. near St. Charles Parish and the city of Kenner. The platform, located in unincorporated Jefferson Parish, is owned by New Orleans-based Clovelly Oil Company.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox