Dirty Energy & Fuel

Published on November 11th, 2011 | by Zachary Shahan

Oklahoma Earthquake Would Have Slammed Keystone XL

keystone xl oklahoma earthquake

An interesting fact not very widely covered this week is that the record-breaking Oklahoma earthquake over the weekend, a 5.6-magnitude quake, struck nearly right on the planned path of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The pipeline would have gone almost right through the epicenter of the Oklahoma earthquake. That’s nice to know, isn’t it?

The good news, of course, is that the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline will not be reviewed for approval until 2013 at the earliest, after the next presidential election, and that is likely to mean that the oil pipeline won’t be built at all. A much more extensive environmental review (that actually includes the pipeline’s climate change impact) will now be conducted (mainly due to thousands upon thousands of activists putting pressure on the White House an nearly every environmental organization doing so, as well), and the pipeline route will be re-examined (mainly due to opposition in Nebraska).

Earthquakes & Fracking

We’ve covered the link between fracking and earthquakes many times now, but someone recently shared more news on this that I think is worth sharing here.

Apparently, both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Geological Survey have concluded that there is a causal link between fracking wastewater injection wells and earthquakes. Here’s more on the U.S. Army’s earthquake & fracking study from Solar Thermal Magazine:

According to the U.S. Army’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal website, the RMA drilled a deep well for disposing of the site’s liquid waste after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “concluded that this procedure is effective and protective of the environment.” According to the RMA, “The Rocky Mountain Arsenal deep injection well was constructed in 1961, and was drilled to a depth of 12,045 feet” and 165 million gallons of Basin F liquid waste, consisting of “very salty water that includes some metals, chlorides, wastewater and toxic organics” was injected into the well during 1962-1966.

Why was the process halted? “The Army discontinued use of the well in February 1966 because of the possibility that the fluid injection was “triggering earthquakes in the area,” according to the RMA. In 1990, the “Earthquake Hazard Associated with Deep Well Injection–A Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency” study of RMA events by Craig Nicholson, and R.I. Wesson stated simply, “Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established.”

Twenty-five years later, “possibility” and ‘established” changed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s July 2001 87 page study, “Technical Program Overview: Underground Injection Control Regulations EPA 816-r-02-025,” which reported, “In 1967, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) determined that a deep, hazardous waste disposal well at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal was causing significant seismic events in the vicinity of Denver, Colorado.”

The same sort of thing has occurred in Arkansas this year.

And, the USGS itself has the following on its website:

Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada. The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies. Most of these earthquakes were minor. The largest and most widely known resulted from fluid injection at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado. In 1967, an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 followed a series of smaller earthquakes. Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established. (Nicholson, Craig and Wesson, R.L., 1990, Earthquake Hazard Associated with Deep Well Injection–A Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1951, 74 p.)

Oil and gas have their costs. Unfortunately, these costs often aren’t taken into account when calculating the price of these energy options. If they were, we’d be seeing a lot more clean energy in use than we see today. However, with the recent Keystone XL decision, the activism that led up to it, and an increasing awareness of the link between earthquakes and fracking, perhaps that will change.

h/t ecopolitology

Image Credit: David Roberts via Twitter

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009.

Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity.

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  • Aparently smarter than this person

    Geologic work is not done to prepare for pipeline installation and there is very little oil and gas activity where these quakes have occurred. Furthermore, the activity that is occurring is no deeper than 6,000 feet, far more shallow than the 3 mile depth at which the earthquakes have been occurred. You may not have felt the earthquakes happening in OK but it has always been considered to be a somewhat seismically active area. As for the increase in earthquakes, oil and gas activity has taken place in that area for 100 years at a greater rate previously than today. Injection levels have not changed and fracking is not being performed In the area

    Peter is correct, that pipeline is routed through the Cushing hub that has several hundreds of large if not larger pipelines including the original keystone pipeline running through it and none of them were affected.

    As far as tanya’s distaste for Oklahoma…Go back to California, we won’t miss you.

  • Cole Williamson

    Please quit buying oil and oil products…this pretty much eliminates everything as the Farmers rely upon oil to farm…and to get milk to market…thanks that will make plenty left for us folks who work for a living…

  • Tanya

    I lived in California until I was 16 and moved to Oklahoma. (Insert Silent Scream here). I experienced three of the bigger earthquakes in November and there is something that is just not right. I have lived in OK for 35 years now and never experienced a single earth quake and then three in a row. I kept telling people that it seemed man made to me. I kept wondering if geologists were messing with something. I then found out about this oil pipeline. The people of Oklahoma would not be able to handle this situation. I have been lucky to find anyone here with half the intelligence required to know what to do. They are either doing some kind of geological testing at that site in preparation for the pipeline or they are too stupid to be contacting the White House and reporting that a pipeline can not be put on top of that fault.

  • A UK firm has confirmed that their fracking has caused earthquakes there…


  • Peter

    You know what’s interesting about this potential disaster?

    The complete lack of disaster from the other couple hundred pipelines running through the same area:


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