Regulators Ignore Fracking Earthquakes, Protect Big Oil Profits Over People
When one thinks of earthquakes, what comes to mind is usually the vast fault line straddled lands of southern California or the great subduction zones off the coasts of Chile and Japan. Surely, it isn’t the cattle fields of Texas or the rolling plains of Ohio and Oklahoma. Natural disasters in the central and southern U.S. typically blow in with the winds in the form of deadly tornadoes and storms. Yet, thanks to the insatiable rush to tap every last drop of oil and gas from the depths of the Earth’s crust, earthquakes are fast becoming the new norm in “fly-over country.”
Fracking involves shooting a mix of sand, water and chemicals deep underground to force natural gas and oil to the surface. The practice is employed in geological areas where typical extraction methods can’t be utilized. Depending on the size of the operations, fracking produces millions of gallons of water waste, which ends up being stored undergound in so-called injection wells. In 2012 fracking in the U.S. produced nearly 280 billion gallons of this chemically-laden fluid and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports there are more than 155,000 oil and gas wastewater wells active nationwide. Geologists have long associated these deep wells with earthquakes.
Back in the 1960s the U.S. military injected chemical waste northeast of Denver, CO, at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal station. From March of 1962 to Sept. 1963 an average of 21 million liters were injected 3,600 meters below the earth’s surface monthly. While injections ceased for nearly a year, the military again resumed the practice in April 1965 through Feb. 1966, only to be halted once earthquakes were reported at local seismic stations. After observing this earthquake activity before, during and after the injection of chemical water waste, researchers were convinced the pressurized injection had caused numerous tremors that would have otherwise not occurred.
Since this recorded instance, dozens of other cases have been studied with reports being published in peer reviewed journals, where geologists have concluded there is indeed causality between deep-well injections and earthquakes. Yet, this stark research hasn’t stopped state governments from issuing thousands of permits to allow wastewater and other drilling to proceed, often in close proximity to homes and schools. In many such instances state resource departments blatantly ignore science that doesn’t favor the oil and gas industry.
Take the case of lonesome Youngstown, OH. Prior to 2011, Youngstown, population 65,405, had never experienced an earthquake, at least not since records were first kept by Europeans who settled the region in 1776. Nonetheless, this lack of seismic activity changed dramatically when the area recorded 100+ tremors over the course of 2011, including a 3.9 quake that shook the town on New Year’s Eve. Those earthquakes, according to a study by Won-Young Kim of Columbia University, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, were the result of a pesky injection well known as Northstar 1.
“Earthquakes were triggered by fluid injection shortly after the injection initiated—less than two weeks,” Dr. Won-Young Kim told LiveScience.
After eight quakes occurred near Northstar 1, Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) spokesperson Heidi Hetzel-Evans stated, “ODNR has not seen any evidence that shows a correlation between localized seismic activity and deep injection well disposal.”
It’s important to note that it’s not the process of fracking itself that is causing quakes, but the practice of pumping wastewater back into the earth after it’s been used to help extract oil or natural gas. These wells, if located in and around fault lines, have a high likelihood to causing tremors.
Dr. Ray Beiersdorfer, a geology professor at Youngstown University, was mystified by ODNR’s response to the Youngstown quakes. “Based on what I witnessed in the 2011 incident, I believe ODNR is a captured agency,” argues Beiersdorfer. “The language used by industry and the regulatory agency was indistinguishable.”
Professor Beiersdorfer’s suspicion that ODNR is in bed with industry isn’t far-fetched. In a leaked internal document obtained by the Sierra Club, a 2012 draft communication plan outlined how agency staff ought to respond to criticism of the fracking operations ODNR was greenlighting.
“[Fracking] will be met with zealous resistance by environmental activist opponents, who are skilled propagandists,” the Communication Plan stated. “Neutral parties in particular—such as ordinary citizens concerned about families’ health—will be vulnerable to messaging by opponents that the initiative represents dangerous and radical state policy by Gov. Kasich.”
While the Northstar 1 injection well was shut down after the significant 3.9 magnitude earthquake on Dec. 31, 2011, ODNR wasn’t about to admit it had ignored the science and allowed the operation to continue for far too long. It also didn’t stop ODNR from issuing other permits to allow injection well drilling in Ohio.
Consequentially, in March 2014 twelve new earthquakes hit south of Lowellville, OH, where Hilcorp Energy was drilling a disposal well. On March 10, ODNR stated it would force Hilcorp to “suspend all activity,” yet the agency allowed the company to continue gas production and flaring at the site.
Unsurprisingly, Beiersdorfer and others aren’t pleased with the state’s half-hearted response and have called on ODNR to deploy portable seismic stations closer to the Hilcorp operation to get better measurements of quakes, which will in turn provide scientists clearer information about size and location of the tremors.
“The request has been ignored,” Beiersdorfer frustratingly asserts in a piece in Columbus Free Press. “According to a telephone conversation I had with [ODNR Spokesperson] Mark Bruce they are not even discussing deploying portable seismic stations to the site. He said that the five seismometers located within eight miles (the closest is four miles away) are sufficient. My reply that these stations are not close enough to precisely determine the depth of these small earthquakes was not addressed.”
Ohio state Representative Bob Hagen has repeatedly asked ODNR for more information on these quakes as well as drilling activity, yet Rep. Hagen has been stonewalled by the agency who would rather fight the “zealous resistance” by environmentalists than allow geologists and even elected representatives access to information about drilling activity. Without the data there can be no research and therefore no blame.
Currently citizens of Youngstown are rallying to ban fracking and injection wells through ballot measures, having failed twice before. Beirsdorfer and his wife, a fellow geologist, have joined the local fight against fracking despite having both worked for oil companies in the past.
“We suffered another set of earthquakes in [Ohio’s] Mahoning Valley and the ODNR claims to be getting to the bottom of this, yet the most important thing they could do, deploy the remote seismic stations, is not being done,” Professor Beiersdorfer contends. “Representative Hagan is being neglected. The press is being avoided. Somehow, we are expected to believe that ODNR has the technical expertise and social reasonability to decide where in our communities fracking and waste-injection can take place, whether you want them or not.”
Oklahoma is far worse than Ohio, and California for that matter, at least when it comes to earthquake activity. By early April of this year the state had already been dealt 109 earthquakes with a magnitude 3.0 or higher—that’s as many quakes as the Sooner state had in all of 2013. Still, Oklahoma regulatory and industry officials aren’t ready to admit outright the quakes are a result of injection wells.
Yet, all this shaking is not an entirely new phenomenon. In 2011 Oklahoma experienced a large 5.6 earthquake and a 4.7 aftershock near the sleepy town of Prague, which damaged over 200 buildings and injured two people. The Corporation Commission, which tracks injection wells in the state, says there are at least 10,000 active underground injection wells in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Geological Survey examined a cluster of quakes that hit near wells in Aug. 2011 and found “that shortly after hydraulic fracturing began small earthquakes started occurring, and more than 50 were identified, of which 43 were large enough to be located. Most of these earthquakes occurred within a 24 hour period after hydraulic fracturing operations had ceased.”
“We’re trying to make sure we understand what data the state needs in order to start making some determinations on cause and effect,” Chad Warmington, president Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association told Bloomberg in response to the seismic activity. “We don’t want anybody to jump to conclusions.”
But conclusive links between deep wastewater injection wells and earthquakes is exactly what the scientific community has detected. The U.S. Interior Department has openly acknowledged the six-fold increase in quakes in the central U.S. from 2000-2011 are strongly correlated to wastewater injection, including those rolling through Oklahoma.
Even the few scientists that don’t oppose fracking see the dangers. Stanford University professor Mark Zoback, who moonlights as a senior adviser to Baker-Hughes, a multinational well services firm, wrote in a 2011 issue of Earth Magazine that man-made earthquakes can be managed, noting that “… it is important to avoid injection into active faults.” Zoback went on to admit that “a number of the small-to-moderate earthquakes that occurred in the U.S. interior in 2011 appear to be associated with the disposal of wastewater, at least in part related to natural gas production.”
Even so, state officials have not halted companies from continuing to inject millions of gallons of wastewater into underground wells in Oklahoma near known faults. Many of these wastewater dumping holes are located less than three miles from the epicenter of the large Prague quake of 2011.
Austin Holland, an Oklahoma Geological Survey seismologist, recently told E&E News that injections must continue despite the swarm of quake activity rattling Oklahoma. “We can actually learn what’s going on,” he claimed, “and perhaps mitigate these things in the future.”
Such brash sentiments are disconcerting to folks who are living in the midst of these ongoing earthquakes. For those residing in the tremor zones down in Arkansas, where numerous injection wells are active, daily anxiety caused by numerous quakes has many on edge.
“I remember days when the tremors were most active in the Greenbrier area, the rural town where I grew up [in Arkansas],” says Emily Lane, who now sits on the Board of Directors of Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group in Arkansas. “Some days I’d feel 1-2 earthquakes an hour. The roar would approach quickly and roll through the house like a train passing through. Pictures rattled, the dog barked, and a fear grew inside me and many in the community about when the ‘big one’ would come.”
Arkansas officials shut down four disposal wells near Greenbrier and the quakes have stopped; yet tremors in other areas of the state near injection wells continue.
“These quakes in outlying areas continue to compromise the integrity of well casings, increasing the likelihood of water contamination in the area,” attests Lane, who is deeply concerned about what lies ahead. “What is most discouraging, beyond the obvious dangers present from future earthquakes and fluid migration/contamination, is that most people in Arkansas still do not realize that a strong correlation was found between disposal wells and seismicity.”
Residents in Arkansas have filed a class action suit against the drillers who operate the disposal wells. Texas residents also lodged a similar case against Royal Dutch Shell, Sunoco and others, claiming their properties have been damaged by earthquakes near the companies’ injection wells.
The fight to end fracking, or at least relocate these earthquake-inducing disposal wells away from fault zones, is going to be an uphill battle. It will likely take thousands more earthquakes, severe property damage, injuries and perhaps death before regulatory agencies stop ignoring science and start protecting people instead of oil and gas industry profits.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
- Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use Sign of Climate ... ›
- California Faces a Future of Extreme Weather - EcoWatch ›
Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›