Recent earthquakes in Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico are tied to wells drilling companies use to dispose of wastewater, federal geologists will argue in a report expected this week.
A USGS team based in Menlo Park, Calif., found that the quake in Colorado and a damaging 5.6-magnitude quake in Oklahoma both were induced by disposal of fracking waste underground.
Regulators in Colorado are urging more study on the link between disposal wells and earthquakes, “but have started to look for seismic risk in permit reviews,” the AP and Denver Post report.
U.S. Geological Survey scientist Justin Rubinstein, co-author of the report — which will be released at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, currently underway in San Francisco — says the data should spur a discussion of disposal wells.
While the evidence is convincing that deep burial of drilling waste can trigger quakes, it also appears that few of the 40,000 disposal wells nationwide have done so, Rubinstein said.
“But I don’t think blowing this off is a good idea,” he said. “It’s a problem we need to understand. There’s been millions of dollars of damage. If you trigger bigger earthquakes, there’s a possibility of worse outcomes.”