Quantcast

Increased Frequency of Earthquakes Linked to Fracking Wastewater Injection Wells

Fracking

EcoWatch

By Laura Beans

The increased rates of earthquakes occurring in the central and eastern U.S over the past few years is a growing cause of concern. Two recent reports delve into the probability of man-made, wastewater induced earthquakes.

According to the U.S Geological Survey (USGS), more than 300 earthquakes above a magnitude 3.0 occurred from 2010-2012, compared with a much lower national average rate of 21 earthquakes per year observed from 1967-2000. The USGS also found that the increase in seismic activity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells. Much of this is a byproduct of oil and gas production which uses the process of fracking for extraction. The fracking wastewater is disposed of into wells specifically designed and approved for this purpose.

Seismicity of the coterminous U.S. and surrounding regions, 2009–2012. Black dots denote earthquakes with a magnitude ≥ 3.0 are shown; larger dots denote events with a magnitude ≥ 4.0. Background colors indicate earthquake hazard levels from the U.S. National Seismic Hazard Map (NSHM). Graphic courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

The journal Science published a report Thursday, concluding that powerful earthquakes thousands of miles away can trigger swarms of minor quakes near wastewater-injection well sites like those used in oil and gas recovery, sometimes followed months later by quakes big enough to destroy buildings.

What seems to happen is that wastewater injection leaves local faults "critically loaded," or on the verge of rupture. Even weak seismic waves from faraway quakes are therefore enough to set off a throngs of small quakes in a process called "dynamic triggering."

Geologists have known for 50 years that injecting fluid underground, by the impoundment of water in reservoirs, surface and underground mining, can increase pressure on seismic faults and make them more likely to slip. The result is an induced quake.

The "natural gas boom" of recent years has been linked to an increase in small to moderate earthquakes. According to Rueters, seismologists at Columbia University say they have identified three earthquakes—in Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas—that were triggered at injection-well sites by major quakes a far distance away.

The seismic waves from an 8.8 quake in Maule, Chile, in February 2010 triggered a 4.1 magnitude quake in Prague, OK—site of the Wilzetta oil field—some 16 hours later. Months of smaller tremors in Oklahoma ensued, and then on Nov. 6, 2011, a 5.7 magnitude quake—the largest yet associated with wastewater injection—hit the city of Prague. It destroyed 14 homes, buckled a highway and injured two people.

"The fluids [in wastewater injection wells] are driving the faults to their tipping point," said Nicholas van der Elst of Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who led the study. 

Before the advent of injection wells, triggered earthquakes were a purely natural phenomenon. Now, according to the Science paper, triggered quakes can occur where human activity has weakened faults.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING and FRACKING WASTEWATER pages for more related news on this topic.

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Investing in grid infrastructure would enable utilities to incorporate modern technology, making the grid more resilient and flexible. STRATMAN2 / FLICKR

By Elliott Negin

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' recent decision to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to scientists who developed rechargeable lithium-ion batteries reminded the world just how transformative they have been. Without them, we wouldn't have smartphones or electric cars. But it's their potential to store electricity generated by the sun and the wind at their peak that promises to be even more revolutionary, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and protecting the planet from the worst consequences of climate change.

Read More Show Less
Two Javan rhinos deep in the forests of Ujung Kulon National Park, the species' last habitat on Earth. Sugeng Hendratno / WWF

By Basten Gokkon

The global population of the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros has increased to 72 after four new calves were spotted in the past several months.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A tiger looks out from its cage at a new resort and zoo in the eastern Lao town of Tha Bak on Dec. 5, 2018. Karl Ammann believes the "zoo" is really a front for selling tigers. Terrence McCoy / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Are tigers extinct in Laos?

That's the conclusion of a detailed new study that found no evidence wild tigers still exist in the country.

Read More Show Less

A group of scientists is warning that livestock production must not expand after 2030 for the world to stave off ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less
The largest wetland in Africa is in the South Sudan. George Steinmetz / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images Plus

Methane emissions are a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – about 28 times more powerful. And they have been rising steadily since 2007. Now, a new study has pinpointed the African tropics as a hot spot responsible for one-third of the global methane surge, as Newsweek reported.

Read More Show Less