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 ()
Sponsored
Animation showing percent of acres burning worldwide. NASA / GSFC / SVS

New NASA Study Solves Climate Mystery, Confirms Methane Spike Tied to Oil and Gas

By Sharon Kelly

Over the past few years, natural gas has become the primary fuel that America uses to generate electricity, displacing the long-time king of fossil fuels, coal. In 2019, more than a third of America's electrical supply will come from natural gas, with coal falling to a second-ranked 28 percent, the Energy Information Administration predicted this month, marking the growing ascendency of gas in the American power market.

Keep reading... Show less
Pexels

Forest Gardening With Space for Wild Elephants

By Michael B. Commons

In my collaboration with Terra Genesis International, I have been given space and support to investigate what we may call "Regenerative Pathways," looking at real life examples of functional farming systems that we can identify as being on the "Regenerative Agriculture Pathway."

While these farms/farming systems might be called "Regenerative Farms," we see regeneration more as a long term process and continuum that we can evaluate through indicators such as soil health, water retention, biodiversity, community health and more.

Keep reading... Show less
Slava Bowman / Unsplash

How Can We Help Put a Human Face on Climate Change?

By John R. Platt

Communicating the truths about climate change isn't always easy. Sometimes the effects of climate change seem to hover in the future, or are occurring most visibly in other parts of the world. Other times they're subtle—at least for now. And of course, there are some people who just don't want to hear anything about it.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Aerial view of Yaguas River and the Cachimbo tributary. Alvaro del Campo, Field Museum

Peru's Newest National Park Safeguards 2 Million Acres of Amazon Rainforest

The Peruvian government announced it will establish a new and enormous national park in the Amazon.

Yaguas National Park, located in the northern region of Loreto, consists of 2,147,166 acres of rainforest, a vast river system and is home to more than 3,000 species of plants, 500 species of birds and 160 species of mammals, including giant otters, woolly monkeys, Amazonian river dolphins and manatees. The park also features 550 fish species—one of the richest fish faunas in the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Molteno Dam Reservoir in Cape Town. Wikimedia Commons

Will Cape Town Become the First Major City to Run Out of Water?

Cape Town is on track to become the first major city in the world to run out of water.

The world-renowned tourist destination—and the second-most populous urban area in South Africa after Johannesburg—could approach "Day Zero," when most taps run dry, by April 21, Mayor Patricia de Lille said Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
The mountains of Haiti. PO2 Daniel Barker / DVIDS

Haiti’s Most Popular Ecotourism Destinations

The tropical Caribbean island of Haiti is a paradise with a rich, fascinating history, natural wonders and diverse cultural offerings. It has also been named by some as the next big thing in regional tourism.

But ecotourism in particular could become important for Haiti, with its rich land and sea biodiversity. Globally, the business of ecotourism generates more than $600 billion a year and is connected to hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Politics
iStock

Nearly All Coastal Governors Denounce Plan to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling

Politicians from coastal states around the country continue to call for their states to be exempt from the Trump administration's proposed expansion of offshore drilling following its politically-tinged decision last week to remove Florida from the plan.

The Interior Department said last week that Secretary Ryan Zinke had spoken with seven coastal governors opposed to drilling, including the governors of North and South Carolina, Rhode Island, Delaware and Washington. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's office told press Zinke would consider removing the state from the plan following their call, while California Gov. Jerry Brown's office reports that Zinke promised to travel to the state to further discuss the offshore leases.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Rob Hainer / IStock

In Alabama, a Cleanup Unearths Toxins—and Scandal

By Matt Smith

Lot by lot, backhoes and dump trucks are scraping and hauling away yards on the north side of Birmingham to remove soil laced with heavy metals and other industrial wastes—the legacy of this city's years as a steelmaking power.

Federal prosecutors say that effort also uncovered something else: a scheme to save polluters millions by putting the neighborhood's representative in Montgomery on their payroll.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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