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Burning Question: Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?

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Yesterday, we began answering your burning questions about natural gas drilling, with a post delving into the “who, what, where, when and why” of water testing. Here’s part two of our series:

The second of our burning questions comes from Deb Stone. Stone wants to know if there have been any studies looking at the link between fracking and earthquakes. This became a huge buzz lately when a 5.9 earthquake struck Mineral, Virginia. East Coasters aren’t used to earthquakes, certainly not that large, so many speculated there was a connection. Industry spokespeople said no fracking way did drilling cause the Virginia quake.

Jim Coleman, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey told StateImpact that injecting fluid under high pressure does cause measurable seismic activity. But he says the earthquakes are typically too small to be noticed and didn’t think there was any evidence that fracking would have caused the Virginia quake.

The quick answer to Deb’s question is yes, but those studies have linked deep well injections, which is part of natural gas production, with earthquakes.  Some studies looking at the earthquake connection to fracking are ongoing. Scientists with the British Geological Survey are studying the link between small earthquakes near Backpool, England, and fracking. All drilling in the area was halted after two earthquakes occurred about a month apart in the spring of 2011.

Just last week, Arkansas regulators banned the use of deep injection wells to store wastewater after they found the activity caused a rise in small earthquakes last winter. The Arkansas Geological Survey told the AP last July that seismic activity decreased dramatically once the wells were shut down. The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission has not banned fracking, only the use of wells to dispose of wastewater.

More than 40 years ago, a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey attributed a 5.3 magnitude earthquake in 1967 to a large injection well at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Denver, Colorado. Several smaller earthquakes followed the larger one.

A more recent study by Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas also linked a rash of small earthquakes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2008 and 2009 to deep injection wells used to dispose of natural gas wastewater. But as the study’s authors pointed out, many similar wells operated in areas where no seismic activity occurred.

The Army Corps of Engineers has expressed concern about drilling for natural gas near dams and has a national team studying the potential impact. The Corps has requested a 3000 foot buffer around dams because it worries that fracking near fault lines could cause earthquakes or shifts in sediment that would weaken dam structures. CBS 11 News in Dallas reports that the Corp’s Fort Worth district wrote a letter in September to town officials in Grand Prairie, Texas warning them that a nearby Chesapeake Energy gas well site could potentially cause a “catastrophic dam failure.”

 

Comments

  • Mike Knapp

    Actually, the quick answer to Deb’s question is NO. Deep injection wells have nothing to do with the fracing ,aside from it being one of the MANY ways that companies deal with fracing wastewater. Most companies are recycling and/or treating their water, removing the need to injection wells. There are many other industries that utilize injection wells to dispose of hazardous liquid wastes, including Petroleum Refining, Metal Production, Chemical Production, Pharmaceutical Production, Commercial Disposal, Food Production, Municipal Wastewater Treatment (http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/wells_class1.cfm#animation). Coal fired power plants also use them to sequester CO2.

    Do Big Mac’s cause earthquakes? By the logic of the author, the quick answer is “Yes, they do”. If you’re going to say that fracing causes ‘quakes, then all of these other uses also equally culpable.

    While it is true that improperly placed underground injection wells have been linked to increased seismic activity, the vast majority do not. It’s a handful of UIC (Underground Injection Control) wells that have caused a “problem”. In fact, many researchers see such injection as a way to PREVENT large scale earthquakes. If the fault line is lubricated with fluids, chances are good that it would allow many small, unnoticeable quakes rather than allowing pressure to build up until the breakpoint, which could result in a large scale, damaging quake.

    StateImpact is usually right on point on gas drilling issues. This sensationalist headline and the inaccurate “yes” answer is stunningly off base.

    Mike Knapp
    President
    Knapp Acquisitions & Production, LLC
    Kittanning, PA
    http://www.knappAP.com

    • Susan Phillips

      Hi Mike, It’s true that disposal of waste water and fracking are two different things, which I explained in the piece. But deep injection is part of gas drilling production. Fracking can cause seismic activity, but as I quoted the geologist from the USGS, its too small to be noticed. The British Geological Survey is looking to see whether the earthquakes in Blackpool were connected to fracking. So far, it’s unclear if there was a connection. The headline was posed as a question, and not meant to express a conclusion either way.

    • guest

      Of course you want everyone to believe that fracking does not cause earthquakes Mike ! You care about nothing but making money no matter what happens to everyone else. Lets look at the facts we do know, a) Pumping liquid back into the earth will cause earthquakes. b) The EPA does not require you to list all the toxic chemicals that you are pumping into the ground which DOES end up in our water supply.

      You care about nothing else but making money period ! If you didnt you would wait untill new scientific data comes back on what effect fracking has on not only the environment but also our water supply.

  • Anonymous

    Deb’s question was actually ‘has there been a study…..’ There has been studies on injection wells causing earthquakes. And, ‘yes’ they do. It does still remain to be determined whether the fracking itself causes it, although; the UK had earthquake activity during fracking and shut it down. As to whether they are minor or major would be depending on if you lived in the area that was having the earthquakes. There are numerous class action lawsuits in Arkansas right now in regards to the damage that the earthquakes have caused. However, being that Arkansas suffered over 1000+ earthquakes and Cokedale, Colorado (another earthquake zone caused by injection wells) having a 5.9, I would say that’s pretty significant. Not to mention, where does all of that toxic mix go when you do have an earthquake? Well, up the well bore back through the aquifer layer of course. Just like a staw, squeeze the bottom and where does the liquid go? Yes, all kinds of WASTE is pumped into these wells but HFF is exponentially more toxic (especially, more toxic than a Big Mac) Now, they want to take it to waste water treatment plants. Where they polluted PA’s water supply with trihalomethanes. Another warning by Carnegie Melon falling on deaf ears. Now they want to bring to Niagara Falls treatment facility. Where at the end-of-the-day, it’s still not potable but counting on further dilution. It doesn’t help that they don’t know what’s in it. The NYSGEIS claims there is incomplete information on at least 68 products and an additional 20 products they have no clue of because they are mixtures. On top of all this, it’s radioactive because fracking mobilizes uranium. And, let’s not forget the fact that the industry didn’t disclose Chromium 6 in the chemicals, but the DEC found it in the produced waste water. Did we not recall the Ford Pinto because it only blew up in rear end collisions? Or should we ban a process such as High Volume Hydrofracking because it is such a dirty waste product? Or, do we listen to the industry who fixates on the ‘fracturing’ only part of the process so they can cling to their denials of culpability?

  • jiieds

    so its yeas and no

  • Cmoredata

    How do injection wells differ from the fracking wells? Are the well depths similar? Are the pressures used for injection of waste water similar to the pressures used in fracking? It would seem if injection wells have been linked to some increased seismic activity and the activities are similar then it also seem likely that fracking could promote earthquakes as well.  

  • Domo84

    This Is how you carry out an independent study in England.

    The conclusions of the Geomechanical Study of Blackpool,England,
    Seismicity that the earth quakes were “probabaly” caused by fracturing.

     Caudrilla Resources,the fracking company, have stated that this was an “independent report.

     

    The lead investigator and co-author of this report is Hans
    de Pater. Hans de Pater worked on this report as a consultant for a company
    called Stratagen. http://www.stratagen.com/

    Stratgen’s parent company is called Carbo Ceramics http://www.carboceramics.com/

     

    The other person who was involved in this report is a gentleman
    called Stefan Baisch who works for a company called Q-con. http://www.q-con.de/

     

    Spend a little bit of time in these web sites and see
    if you come to the same conclusion as me regarding the independence of this
    report.

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