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CoalDirty Energy & FuelDisasters & Extreme WeatherEarthquakesNatural Gas

Man-Made Earthquakes?

Earthquake damage

There’s no denying it — reports of massive earthquakes have been rocking the news lately. All this recent seismic activity has caused many to wonder: has the earth always been this shaky? Or is human activity causing some of these earthquakes?

While some earthquakes are due to the shifting of tectonic plates above the earth’s mantle, there are at least five ways that scientists are aware of which can artificially cause an earthquake. Below we will take a look at some of the ways that we might be causing seismic activity to occur on our planet.

Fluid Injection into the Earth

In 1961, geologists made the horrifying discovery that the injection of waste fluids into the earth’s crust could trigger seismic activity when the U.S. army decided this was a good method of disposing of toxic wastes. Between 1962—1966, 165 million gallons of waste was dumped into a 12,000-foot deep well, which had been drilled into the Rocky Mountains. A chain of quakes in the Denver region coincided in magnitude and frequency with the amount of waste deposited. Geologists concluded that the earthquakes occurred due to the liquid being injected under extremely high pressure, which released accumulated tension in the rocks.

Fluid Extraction from the Earth

Some of the largest quakes caused by man ever recorded have taken place in natural gas fields. The tectonic action is caused by the constant drilling and pumping in the earth’s crust. It’s fairly obvious that hydrocarbon recovery is connected to seismic activity. Another phenomena connected with hydrocarbon recovery is fracking. This is the process in which pressurized fluid is used to fracture rock layers in the earth’s crust in order to release petroleum (oil), natural gas, coal steam gas, or any other substance for extraction. It has been linked to earthquakes in Arkansas, is probably linked to earthquakes in England, and is likely linked to the recent record-breaking earthquakes in Oklahoma.

Coal Mining

Coal mining has been taking place for centuries. Coal is the number one source of electricity in the United States, China, and many other countries. For hundreds of years, coal miners have slaved to pull fossilized fuel from the center of the earth. This often entails water being pumped out alongside the coal; sometimes extreme amounts of water are extracted along with the coal. This, of course, means a huge regional mass shift, which refigures the stresses of that given area. This can either increase the likelihood of an earthquake, or decrease it.

Building a Dam

Water is, of course, heavier than air. Whenever the valley behind a dam is filled, a massive stress load is shifted atop the earth’s crust. This shift in stress load, in turn, triggers earthquakes. The Hoover Dam area, for instance, faced many earthquakes— hundreds, even— as Lake Mead filled with water.  

Applying a Ton of Weight along a Fault Line

This method of triggering an earthquake is still debatable. Much like building a dam, building an extremely large, heavy building along a fault line can potentially cause even dormant fault lines to quake (due to a high shift in stress level along said fault line). An example of this is the Taipei 101, whose 700,000 metric tons allegedly triggered earthquakes along a long dormant fault line in Taiwan.

These are just a few ways in which human activity is known to trigger earthquakes. By educating yourself on the matter, you can help prevent further damage from happening, whether you take preventative measures yourself or merely help spread the word. We only have one earth to live on, and we need to take care not to destroy it.

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Photo credit: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by digitalsadhu




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