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
Insights/Opinion
Pexels

Tackling Climate Change Requires Healing the Divide

Canadian climate change opinion is polarized, and research shows the divide is widening. The greatest predictor of people's outlook is political affiliation. This means people's climate change perceptions are being increasingly driven by divisive political agendas rather than science and concern for our collective welfare.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Pexels

10 Chefs Bringing Forgotten Grains Back to Life

Millets are a staple crop for tens of millions of people throughout Asia and Africa. Known as Smart Food, millets are gluten-free, and an excellent source of protein, calcium, iron, zinc and dietary fiber. They can also be a better choice for farmers and the planet, requiring 30 percent less water than maize, 70 percent less water than rice, and can be grown with fewer expensive inputs, demanding little or no fertilizers and pesticides.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure
Háifoss waterfall is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. FEBRUARY / Getty Images

The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel

By Meredith Rosenberg

Between gas-guzzling flights, high-pollution cruise ships and energy-consuming hotels, travel takes a huge toll on the environment. Whether for business or vacation, for many people it's not realistic to simply stop traveling. So what's the solution? There are actually numerous ways to become more eco-conscious while traveling, which can be implemented with these expert tips.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
Freder / E+ / Getty Images

Surprising Study: Orangutans Are Only Non-Human Primates Who Can 'Talk' About the Past

We already know that orangutans are some of the smartest land animals on Earth. Now, researchers have found evidence that these amazing apes can communicate about past events—the first time this trait has been observed in a non-human primate.

A new study published in the journal Science Advances revealed that when wild Sumatran orangutan mothers spotted a predator, they suppressed their alarm calls to others until the threat was no longer there.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Suicide rates are highest for males in construction and extraction; females in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media, the CDC found. Michelllaurence / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

CDC: Suicide Rate Among U.S. Workers Increasing

From 2000 to 2016, the suicide rate among American workers has increased 34 percent, up 12.9 per 100,000 working persons to 17.3, according to a worrisome new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Workers with the highest suicide rates have construction, mining and drilling jobs, the U.S. health officials reported Thursday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy
PG&E received a maximum sentence for the 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion. Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Report: 90% of Pipeline Blasts Draw No Financial Penalties

A striking report has revealed that 90 percent of the 137 interstate pipeline fires or explosions since 2010 have drawn no financial penalties for the companies responsible.

The article from E&E News reporter Mike Soraghan underscores the federal Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) weak authority over the fossil fuel industry for these disasters.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Nevada Test and Training Range. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum

U.S. Navy Proposes Massive Land Grab to Test Bombs

Friday the U.S. Navy released details of a plan to seize more than 600,000 acres of public land in central Nevada to expand a bombing range. The land under threat includes rich habitat for mule deer, important desert springs and nesting sites for raptors like golden eagles.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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