Quantcast
Energy

'Groundbreaking' Study Links Texas Earthquakes to Wastewater Injection From Fracking

Even though scientists are pretty certain that wastewater injection from fracking and conventional drilling has led to the unprecedented spate of earthquakes rollicking Oklahoma, Texas and other states in recent years. Definitive proof, however, is rare. But now, in a study published Thursday in Science, researchers have fastened another nail in the "man-made earthquakes" coffin.

Earthquakes in Texas in November 2014.NBC Dallas-Fort Worth

Using satellite imagery, the researchers found that a series of earthquakes that struck Texas between 2012 and 2013— including the largest-ever quake recorded in eastern Texas—were caused by the injection of large volumes of wastewater from oil and gas activities into deep underground wells.

As Mashable explained from the study:

Wastewater not only puts pressure on underground fault lines, causing "induced" earthquakes, but also pushes up the surface of the ground—a phenomenon called "uplifting" that can be seen from space.

Researchers used satellite images of ground uplifting to show how wastewater disposal in eastern Texas eventually triggered a magnitude-4.8 earthquake in May 2012, the largest earthquake recorded in that half of the Lone Star state.

"Our research is the first to provide an answer to the questions of why some wastewater injection causes earthquakes, where it starts and why it stops," said study co-author William Ellsworth, a geophysics professor at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

As a Stanford press release described, the researchers used Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (or satellite-based radar) to detect tiny, highly precise deformations near four high-volume wastewater disposal wells where the 2012 temblor occurred.

These wells had operated between 2005 and 2007, injecting about 200 million gallons of wastewater annually underground at its peak—or, as Science pointed out, "about an Olympic swimming pool's worth of wastewater pumped underground each day."

This uplift, as a result of pumping so much fluid into the ground, caused the terrain between two sets of injection wells to bulge up to 3 millimeters a year on average between May 2007 and November 2010, Science noted. Over time, excess fluids seeped away from the injection point into tiny spaces in surrounding subsurface rocks, boosting water pressure—aka pore pressure. The ever-expanding pore pressure then reached fault zones, thus triggering earthquakes.

As explained in the Stanford press release, the rising pore pressure built up until it triggered earthquakes in 2012 along an ancient fault line. "The quakes ended in late 2013, when pressures began to decline after wastewater injections were scaled back considerably," it stated.

Fracking has become an increasingly controversial oil and gas extraction method especially due to its briney, chemically laden wastewater byproduct. Every day, two billion gallons of this wastewater is injected into roughly 180,000 disposal wells scattered throughout states such as Texas, California, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Mounting evidence shows that this injecting of wastewater is causing damaging earthquakes in areas that had never seen much seismic activity, especially in Oklahoma, which has surpassed California in becoming the country's earthquake capital. Just this month, the Sooner State was rocked by a 5.8 earthquake in Pawnee, the largest ever in the state.

Dauntingly, the researchers in the current study found that seismic activity increased even as wastewater injection rates declined because pore pressure from earlier injections continuing to diffuse.

On an industry-positive note, this research presents a new tool to pinpoint which earthquakes are man-made or natural and to even forecast further seismic activity.

Arizona State University geophysicist and study co-author Manoochehr Shirzaei called the findings "very groundbreaking" and "very new," and explained how this study can, in a sense, make wastewater disposal safer.

"This research opens new possibilities for the operation of wastewater disposal wells in ways that could reduce earthquake hazards," Shirzaei said. Shirzaei indicated he was neither pro or against fracking.

"So now the goal, the scope of every scientist across the U.S.A., and maybe abroad, is to make that injection safer" by "reducing the number of earthquakes as much as we can," he said.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Health
Lee Johnson and his two sons. Lee Johnson

Man vs. Monsanto: First Trial Over Roundup Cancer Claims Set to Begin

By Carey Gillam

Dewayne "Lee" Johnson has led what many might call an unremarkable life. The 46-year-old father and husband spent several years working as a school groundskeeper and spending free time teaching his two young sons to play football. But this week he takes center stage in a global debate over the safety of one of the world's most widely used pesticides as he takes Monsanto to court on claims that repeated exposure to the company's popular Roundup herbicide left him with terminal cancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Ryan Zinke at USDA headquarters in Washington, DC on Jan. 18, 2018. Lance Cheung / USDA / Flickr

Zinke Caught in Conflict of Interest With Oil Giant Halliburton

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has spent his first 15 months opening public lands to oil and gas drilling, has been linked to a development project with Halliburton chairman David Lesar, POLITICO reported Tuesday.

Lesar is backing a real estate development in Zinke's hometown of Whitefish, Montana and receiving help from a foundation started by Zinke and currently run by his wife, Lola.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Celebrate National Pollinators Week By Protecting These Endangered Species

As summer enters into full bloom, it's time to celebrate all the birds, bees and bugs that make the fruits and flowers possible. From June 18 to 24, Pollinator Partnership (P2) is celebrating National Pollinator Week, which was designated by the U.S. Senate 11 years ago and has grown into an international event.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

The Home Depot Will Be Third Major U.S. Retailer to Ban Deadly Paint Strippers

The world's largest home improvement retailer, The Home Depot, announced Tuesday that it will phase out the use of the toxic chemicals methylene chloride and N-methylpyrrolidone (NMP) in its paint removal products by the end of this year.

The company, which operates more than 2,200 stores in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, is the third major retailer this month to commit to pulling the products from store shelves. Methylene chloride and NMP have been found to pose unacceptable health risks to the public, including cancer, harm to the nervous system and to childhood development, and death.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food

These Toxic Chemicals in Food Packaging Are Getting Into Your Meals

By Rachel Smilan-Goldstein

On a busy weeknight, takeout and fast food are easy dinner time solutions. But your family's favorite on-the-go meal may come with a side of toxic fluorinated chemicals.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
An artist's rendering depicted a light rail line on Charlotte Avenue near Sylvan Park. Nashville Public Radio / Nashville Mayor's Office

Kochs Mobilize to Kill Public Transit Plans

The Koch brothers are pouring money into grassroots state efforts to defeat public transit proposals, The New York Times reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
VanessaC (EY) / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Lake Powell Pipeline Is a Hot, Expensive Mess

By Sam Schipani

With rainfall at record lows, water is an increasingly precious commodity in the deserts of southern Utah. But in the driest reaches of redrock country, one long-waged water war thunders even louder than the rest.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Offshore wind turbine near Scotland. U.S. Department of the Interior

Public Health Benefits of Adding Offshore Wind to the Grid

By Jonathan Buonocore

New plans to build two commercial offshore wind farms near the Massachusetts and Rhode Island coasts have sparked a lot of discussion about the vast potential of this previously untapped source of electricity.

But as an environmental health and climate researcher, I'm intrigued by how this gust of offshore wind power may improve public health. Replacing fossil fuels with wind and solar energy, research shows, can reduce risks of asthma, hospitalizations and heart attacks. In turn, that can save lives.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter