Quantcast

South Korea's Most Damaging Earthquake Linked to Geothermal Fracking

Fracking
A Hyundai damaged from an earthquake in Pohang, South Korea on Nov. 15, 2017. Sim1992 / CC BY-SA 4.0

One of South Korea's largest earthquakes was likely triggered by hydraulic fracturing associated with geothermal energy production, according to two studies published Thursday in the journal Science.

The 5.5-magnitude temblor that struck the city of Pohang on Nov. 15, 2017 was the second most powerful on record and its most damaging, leaving the infrastructure in ruins, injuring dozens of people and leaving about 1,500 homeless.


Hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, works by injecting high-pressure fluid underground to fracture rock in order to achieve increased rates of flow. Fracking is often associated with unlocking oil and natural gas deposits, but in this case, the intention was to enable circulation to produce geothermal energy.

Using geological and geophysical data, South Korean researchers from one of the studies suggested that the Pohang earthquake was induced by fluid from an enhanced geothermal system site that was injected directly into a near-critically-stressed subsurface fault zone.

Kwanghee Kim, a seismologist at Pusan National University and lead author of the study, explained that the well's high-pressure water lubricated an unknown fault in the rock, causing it to slip and trigger the quake.

In the second study, researchers from the University of Glasgow, ETH-Zurich in Switzerland, and GFZ-Potsdam in Germany found that the mainshock and its largest aftershocks occurred within 2 kilometers or less of the geothermal site, where many thousands of cubic meters of water were injected under pressure into boreholes.

They also determined that the mainshock and the 46 aftershocks detected between Nov. 15-30 all occurred at depths of 3 to 7 kilometers, which is unusually shallow compared to previous quakes in the area.

"It would be a very remarkable coincidence if this earthquake were to be unrelated to the activity at the site, given that it occurred so close to it," Robert Westaway, a senior research fellow at Glasgow university's school of engineering, and one of the paper's co-authors, told The Guardian. "My own personal view is that it is highly likely there is a connection."

Other research has linked fracking for oil and gas to anthropogenic, or man-made, earthquakes, including a 4.8-magnitude earthquake in 2016 in northern Alberta. The alarming swarm of quakes currently rocking Oklahoma has been connected to the disposal of large volumes of wastewater from oil and gas production into underground wells.

Geothermal energy is often touted as a source of clean power, but previous studies have also found that drilling deep into Earth to tap its natural heat could cause seismic activity, thus raising questions about the long-term risks of this energy source.

"If the Pohang earthquake proves to be human-caused, it would be the largest known associated with deep geothermal energy, and this would certainly impact future projects," team member Stefan Wiemer of the Swiss Seismological Service told New Scientist.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pick one of these nine activism styles, and you can start making change. YES! Illustrations by Delphine Lee

By Cathy Brown

Most of us have heard about UN researchers warning that we need to make dramatic changes in the next 12 years to limit our risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty caused by climate change. Report after report about a bleak climate future can leave people in despair.

Read More Show Less
Jamie Grill Photography / Getty Images

Losing weight, improving heart health and decreasing your chances for metabolic diseases like diabetes may be as simple as cutting back on a handful of Oreos or saying no to a side of fries, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
A boy gives an impromptu speech about him not wanting to die in the next 10 years during the protest on July 15. The Scottish wing of the Extinction Rebellion environmental group of Scotland locked down Glasgow's Trongate for 12 hours in protest of climate change. Stewart Kirby / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

It's important to remember that one person can make a difference. From teenagers to world-renowned scientists, individuals are inspiring positive shifts around the world. Maybe you won't become a hard-core activist, but this list of people below can inspire simple ways to kickstart better habits. Here are seven people advocating for a better planet.

Read More Show Less
A group of wind turbines in a field in Banffshire, Northeast Scotland. Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Scotland produced enough power from wind turbines in the first half of 2019, that it could power Scotland twice over. Put another way, it's enough energy to power all of Scotland and most of Northern England, according to the BBC — an impressive step for the United Kingdom, which pledged to be carbon neutral in 30 years.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Beekeeper Jeff Anderson works with members of his family in this photo from 2014. He once employed all of his adult children but can no longer afford to do so. CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

It's been a particularly terrible summer for bees. Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it is allowing the bee-killing pesticide sulfoxaflor back on the market. And just a few weeks prior, the USDA announced it is suspending data collection for its annual honeybee survey, which tracks honeybee populations across the U.S., providing critical information to farmers and scientists.

Read More Show Less

tommaso79 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Rachel Licker

As a new mom, I've had to think about heat safety in many new ways since pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable to extreme heat.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

It's easy to get confused about which foods are healthy and which aren't.

Read More Show Less