With all the hubbub over the earthquakes that have been occurring throughout the world recently, it’s easy to wonder what the cause behind so much seismic activity is. While earthquakes are typically a natural occurrence, there are certain human activities that can trigger them, such as fracking.
What exactly is fracking? This is a term used for the process of hydraulic fracturing, which is the process in which wells are drilled into the earth’s crust in order to extract oil or natural gas. This process can cause seismic activity if water is not pumped in to replace the oil or natural gas that is extracted. Additionally, the high-pressure injection of waste water back into the earth after the fracking has been linked to increased seismic activity.
Perhaps one of the most obvious reasons why people are becoming suspicious of fracking when it comes to all the recent earthquakes is due to the fact that an independent UK energy company, Cuadrilla Resources, recently admitted that fracking was the probably cause behind two small earthquakes that struck near Blackpool, England, in the spring of 2011.
Although the firm has assured the world that there are few risks of additional earthquakes taking place due to their drilling, one still has to wonder how many earthquakes throughout the world have been man-made and how many are a cause of nature?
Take the multiple earthquakes that have occurred in the central United States recently. Over the last weekend, there were at least 23 earthquakes reported in Oklahoma, one occurring late Saturday night, November 5th. This was the strongest earthquake in the state’s recorded history, measuring at a 5.6 magnitude on the Richter scale. A handful of smaller quakes had shaken the state earlier in the day, and at least 11 aftershocks followed the larger quake, each measuring over 2.5 on the Richter scale. There was moderate structural damage reported to various buildings as well as some roadways.
According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, seismic activity has increased 10 times more than normal since 2009. Although there are some deep-lying fault lines beneath the state’s surface, earthquakes are not a typical occurrence in the Sooner State. Unlike California and Japan, which are both locations prone to earthquakes, Oklahoma does not sit atop two fractious tectonic plates. So what is causing all these earthquakes?
Oklahoma is a big state these days for extracting oil. Although no companies have of yet taken credit for the onset of seismic activity, the possibility of fracking being the cause behind the quakes has not been ruled out yet. In fact, the U.S. Geological Survey has done a study linking at least 50 small earthquakes in Oklahoma with fracking that has been going on there. The bigger worry is that there is a chance that there is a major unknown fault line lying somewhere beneath the state’s crust.
So, what can we do about it? Unless a natural gas company steps forward and takes responsibility for the recent earthquakes, we will have to assume that they are natural occurrences caused by the ever-shifting earth. One does have to wonder if the recent earthquakes are natural, though.
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Oklahoma recent earthquakes image by flickr user kelleymcd