Energy. Environment. Economy.

U.S. Geological Survey Links Man-Made Earthquakes to Gas Drilling

Underground injection of frack waste water “almost certainly” caused a wave of earthquakes from Alabama to Colorado, according to a new report soon to be issued by the U.S. Geological Survey. The researchers looked at a spike in unusual seismic activity that began in 2001.

A remarkable increase in the rate of M 3 and greater earthquakes is currently in progress in the US midcontinent. The average number of M >= 3 earthquakes/year increased starting in 2001, culminating in a six-fold increase over 20th century levels in 2001. Is this increase natural or manmade?

(Read StateImpact Pennsylvania’s look at the wells’ tie to recent earthquakes in eastern Ohio.)

The report says the use of deep injection wells to dispose of the waste water is the likely source of the increase in seismic activity.

A naturally-occurring rate change of this magnitude is unprecedented outside of volcanic settings or in the absence of a main shock, of which there were neither in this region. While the seismicity rate changes described here are almost certainly manmade, it remains to be determined how they are related to either changes in extraction methodologies or the rate of oil and gas production.

The Environmental Working Group has more on the USGS study.

he USGS authors said they do not know why oil and gas activity might cause an increase in earthquakes but a possible explanation is the increase in the number of wells drilled over the past decade and the increase in fluid used in the hydraulic fracturing of each well. The combination of factors is likely creating far larger amounts of wastewater that companies often inject into underground disposal wells. Scientists have linked these disposal wells to earthquakes since as early as the 1960s. The injections can induce seismicity by changing pressure and adding lubrication along faults.


  • Ray Smith

    It looks like you State bureaucrats and the Feds., are getting ready to put a stop to all fracking. Unless I missed something regarding “fracking” which may of caused earthquakes it had to do with water injection of frac water back down to the deep wells into the earth? Why don’t all you people get busy helping this energy starved nation, in fracking or drilling for oil & gas? Instead of putting roadblocks in the Oil and Gas Industries way. It seems to me that you would have something more important to do!

    Ray Smith

  • The_White_Rabbit

    Ray: They are doing what they are supposed to do and that is protecting the public health. The U.S. Geological Survey provides data and interpretations. The data indicates pattern of frack water underground injection and increase in earthquakes in a seismically inactive area. The U.S EPA and health agencies analyze data and make interpretations on potential health effects and environmental receptor effects due to any activity. 

    There is only about three percent of ALL the free water (oceans, rivers, and so forth) that is available for drinking. Of this three percent over ninety percent is tied up in ice. The FEMA Foresight Initiative (available online) shows the problems disaster responders will likely face in the near future due to climate change and other problems. The far right needs to wake up and get their twisted priorities straight for the next generation.

    Another note is that Obama does not set the price of gas which is a GOP mantra right now. World market demand sets the price at the pump, and this also stimulates the drilling companies to drill for petroleum. The mild winter led to low natural gas prices (that Obama doesn’t get credit for by the same GOP logic) and created demobilization of drilling rigs until the price goes back up. Try reading sometime Ray, but don’t limit your information to the Limbaugh Letter.

  • Geologyreportingsomething!

    We just discovered a new freshwater sea in Piper’s face, and thought we should report this to the proper authorities, and this came up on a Google search for “geology reporting something”.

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