November 7th, 2011 by Zachary Shahan
I’ve drawn the link between natural gas hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) and earthquakes numerous times, long before the Oklahoma earthquakes or Blackpool (Lancashire) earthquakes in England. I started doing so early in 2011 when the Arkansas earthquakes were all the news and I got the hint that it might be related to fracking.
The case has only gotten more clear since then. As reported last week, even a fracking company in England has now stated that fracking is the “probable” cause of recent earthquakes there.
Note: it is actually the injection disposal wells at fracking sites that is the culprit. Different from the natural gas production wells, this is where the waste fracking fluid that returns after fracking is complete gets injected back into the earth.
In September, we reported that the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission banned fracking disposal wells for unconventional gas drilling wastes due to earthquakes. This was months after fracking in the area was put on hold (a temporary moratorium was put in place) as an investigation into the matter took place. Some interesting results from that:
“[A]fter two of the four [disposal wells] stopped operating in March, there was a sharp decline in the number of earthquakes. In the 18 days before the shutdown, there were 85 quakes with a magnitude 2.5 or greater, but there were only 20 in the 18 days following the shutdown, according to the state Geological Survey.”
How did they get the idea to study the link? Well, in 2010, after fracking started in the state, the number of earthquakes was over 600 — about as many as in Arkansas in the last 100 years! Connection?
Also, it should be noted that the U.S. Army and U.S. Geological Society conclusively linked fracking to earthquakes long ago.
Oklahoma Earthquakes & Fracking
In Oklahoma, the situation is quite similar (though, of course, the investigation has not been completed yet). The largest earthquake that hit Oklahoma this weekend, a 5.6-magnitude tremor near Sparks, was the largest on record in the state. Dozens of earthquakes hit Oklahoma on the weekend.
Oklahoma has seen the same rise in earthquake activity that Arkansas saw. Going from about 50 earthquakes a year up until 2009, the state got 1,047 last year! I’m sorry, but did no one there or studying the matter notice? Or did they just not make the connection to fracking? Or did they just have no influence over the matter, so no one heard them?
Of course, the trend has continued in 2011, and now almost the whole country knows that Oklahoma all of a sudden gets strong earthquakes. (The 5.6-magnitude quake this week was felt as far away as Illinois and Wisconsin.
Fracking & Earthquakes
OK, now, how can fracking be related to earthquakes? It’s actually the disposal wells that seem to cause the problem. Fracking involves high-pressure injection or pumping of fluids into the ground,.. in order to open up cracks in the rock for natural gas to escape and be capture.
Hmm, open up cracks in the rock….
While it seems fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes immediately, it lowers the barriers to earthquakes happening, loosens up the rocks enough that it is more likely to happen. In Arkansas, they noticed that it was especially the wastewater disposal wells that seemed to be setting the stage for earthquakes. As quoted above, when these wastewater disposal wells were shut down — high-pressure injection of wastewater was stopped — the number of earthquakes diminshed back down to a more normal level soon after.
Of course, many (especially corporate interests in the fracking industry) still claim there is no conclusive link between fracking and earthquakes, and making a clear, direct link to any specific quake is rather hard (if not impossible). But I think we’ve come far enough to know by now that fracking causes (or helps to cause earthquakes). And not just small ones (another common claim in the natural gas industry). And, of course, less not forget about the flammable water….
Sources: Planetsave, Guardian, Earth & Industry, Arstechnica, and numerous articles I’ve read and written on the matter this year.
Oklahoma recent earthquakes by flickr user kelleymcd via Red, Green, and Blue; Oh Frack image via Shutterstock/Gas2
Want to help stop fracking in Oklahoma? Visit the linked Facebook page on the matter.
Still here? OK, bonus for you then! Check out this fun fracking infographic:
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