Quantcast
Energy

Groundbreaking Study Confirms Link Between Fracking and Earthquakes

A groundbreaking study published Tuesday in Seismological Research Letters has demonstrated a link, for the first time, between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas and earthquakes.

The reportHydraulic Fracturing and Seismicity in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, confirms the horizontal drilling technique (which in essence creates an underground mini-earthquake to open up fissures for oil and gas extraction) is responsible for earthquakes, above and beyond what is already canonized in the scientific literature.

A groundbreaking study published in Seismological Research Letters has demonstrated a link, for the first time, between fracking for oil and gas and earthquakes. Photo credit: Wikipedia

We already knew that injecting fracking waste into underground wells can cause quakes. But now it's not just the injections wells, but the fracking procedure itself that can be linked to seismicity.

The study focuses on an area in Canada known as the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, one of Canada's biggest shale basins and tight oil and gas producing regions.

The researchers “compared the relationship of 12,289 fracking wells and 1,236 wastewater disposal wells to magnitude 3 or larger earthquakes in an area of 454,000 square kilometers near the border between Alberta and British Columbia, between 1985 and 2015,” explained a press release. They “found 39 hydraulic fracturing wells (0.3 percent of the total of fracking wells studied) and 17 wastewater disposal wells (1 percent of the disposal wells studied) that could be linked to earthquakes of magnitude 3 or larger.”

If that sounds like a fairly small percentage, Atkinson and colleagues readily admit that is the case in the study. Yet they also write that it could portend worse things to come as more and more wells are fracked in the region.

“It is important to acknowledge that associated seismicity occurs for only a small proportion of hydraulic fracturing operations,” they wrote, proceeding to cite another paper written in 2015 by lead author Gail Atkinson—a professor of earth sciences at the University of Western Ontario—and colleagues on the impacts of induced seismicity. “However, considering that thousands of such wells are drilled every year in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin, the implications for hazard are nevertheless significant, particularly if multiple operations are located in close proximity to critical infrastructure.”

The Western Canada Sedimentary Basin uses less water during fracking operations than in places like the current mecca of frackquakes, Oklahoma. In the paper, the authors also conclude that the massive amount of wastewater incidents in the U.S. may cloak the impact fracking has had on induced seismicity in the central U.S., which calls for more scientific investigation.

“[I]t is possible that a higher-than-recognized fraction of induced earthquakes in the United States are linked to hydraulic fracturing, but their identification may be masked by more abundant wastewater-induced events,” they explained.

One of their most important finds appears to be the definitive link the researchers found between fracking and earthquakes in the region, rather than the sheer number of quakes. They also found no link between the amount of fluid pumped into the ground during fracking and the size of the earthquake.

“More than 60 percent of these quakes are linked to hydraulic fracture, about 30-35 percent come from disposal wells and only 5 to 10 percent of the earthquakes have a natural tectonic origin,” said Atkinson in a press release. And “if there isn't any relationship between the maximum magnitude and the fluid disposal, then potentially one could trigger larger events if the fluid pressures find their way to a suitably stressed fault.”

What's the big takeaway, then, according to the paper? Of course, a call for more investigation, but in the meantime they also call for more thoughtful public policy moving forward.

“The nature of the hazard from hydraulic fracturing has received less attention than that from wastewater disposal, but it is clearly of both regional and global importance,” they wrote in the conclusion. “The likelihood of damaging earthquakes and their potential consequences needs to be carefully assessed when planning HF operations in this area.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Induced Earthquakes Increase Chances of Damaging Shaking, Wastewater Disposal From Fracking Primary Cause

Community Builds Walden Pond Cabin in Thoreau-Inspired Fracking Pipeline Protest

Bill McKibben: Fracking Has Turned Out to Be a Costly Detour

Is Fracking Industry Too Wounded to Respond as Oil Prices Bottom Out?

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
The Revelator

Interactive Map: Air Pollution in 2100

By Dipika Kadaba

Having a little trouble breathing lately? That's no surprise. Air pollution is already bad in many parts of the country, and climate change is only going to make it worse. Even though many industries are reducing their emissions, a warming climate could actually offset these reductions by intensifying the rates of chemical reactions and accumulation of pollutants in the environment.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
ddukang / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Is Apple Cider Vinegar Good for You? A Doctor Weighs In

By Gabriel Neal

When my brother and I were kids back in the '80s, we loved going to Long John Silver's.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Dumpster Debacle Distracts From Serious Spike in Whale Deaths

This week, a video of a failed attempt to put a dead, 4,000-pound whale into a tiny dumpster made the rounds on the internet, garnering chuckles and comparisons to Peter Griffin forklifting and impaling a beached sperm whale on Family Guy.

The juvenile minke whale washed up on Jenness Beach in Rye, New Hampshire on Monday morning, NBC 10 Boston reported. It was found with entanglement wounds, so researchers with the Seacoast Science Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted to move the carcass from the beach to a lab for a necropsy to study its death.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Muir Woods, which costs $10 for entry, will have free entry on Sept. 22. m01229 / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Visit Any National Park for Free This Saturday to Celebrate 25th National Public Lands Day

If you're stuck for plans this weekend, we suggest escaping your city or town for the great outdoors.

This Saturday marks the 25th National Public Lands Day, organized by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
A glacier flows towards East Antarctica. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / CC BY 2.0

Temperatures Possible This Century Could Melt Parts of East Antarctic Ice Sheet, Raise Sea Levels 10+ Feet

A section of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet that contains three to four meters (approximately 10 to 13 feet) of potential sea level rise could melt if temperatures rise to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels, a study published in Nature Wednesday found.

Researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Queensland, and other institutions in New Zealand, Japan and Spain looked at marine sediments to assess the behavior of the Wilkes Subglacial Basin during warmer periods of the Pleistocene and found evidence of melting when temperatures in Antarctica were at least two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels for periods of 2,500 years or more.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Oil well in North Dakota. Tim Evanson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pipeline Leaks 63,840 Gallons of Produced Water in North Dakota

A pipeline released 63,840 gallons (1,520 barrels) of produced water that contaminated rangeland in Dunn County, North Dakota, the Bismarck Tribune reported, citing officials with the North Dakota Department of Health.

Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction, and can contain drilling chemicals if fracking was used.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights
Residents stand in a long queue to fill water containers on May 27 in Shimla, India. Deepak Sansta / Hindustan Times / Getty Images

World Peace Requires Access to Safe Water

International Peace Day is Sept. 21. Mekela Panditharatne, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted the following op-ed to EcoWatch in commemoration.

In drought-ravaged East Africa, the cracks in the plains echo the fault lines splitting tribes.

Across the globe, the devastation of deadly brawls is being exacerbated by tensions over access to water. Water crises, often worsened by governance failures, can portend warning signs for instability and conflict. This year, the World Resources Institute cautioned that water stress is growing globally, "with 33 countries projected to face extremely high stress in 2040." The effects of such water stress span the gamut from civil unrest to open warfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Food

How Your Personality Type Could Influence Your Food Choices

By Melissa Kravitz

"You are what you eat" may be one of the oldest sayings ever to be repeated around the dinner table, but can you also eat what you are?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!