A study by the U.S. Geological Survey finds the largest earthquake ever recorded in Kansas was linked to wastewater injection into deep underground wells — a process known as fracking. The November 12, 2014 earthquake, occurred 40 miles southwest of Wichita near the town of Milan. It registered 4.9 on the Richter scale and was felt as far away as Memphis. According to the USGS, the epicenter of the quake was located in an area were seismic activity is extremely rare but was adjacent to known fracking operations.
The Wichita Eagle reports the November, 2014 earthquake was likely related to just one or two nearby wells. The USGS study, which will be published in Seismological Research Letters next month, identifies 4 reasons why geologic scientists believe the earthquake was related to fracking activity.
- There were no similar earthquakes reported in the area previously.
- There were waste-water injection wells nearby.
- The earthquake activity started after the amount of water injected in the wells increased.
- The earth in that area could be activated by changes in pressure.
The first fracked well in the United States was drilled in Kansas in 1947. The process is now used for virtually all of the 5,000 conventional wells drilled in Kansas annually. Kansas is a region previously devoid of significant seismic activity, however, the number of earthquakes in the state jumped from only four in 2013 to 817 in 2014, according to The Washington Post.
Starting in January of 2014, fracking activity increased dramatically in the area reports the Wichita Eagle. By mid-summer, five times as much wastewater was being injected into the earth near the quake center than at any previous time.
USGS geologist George Choy, the study’s lead author, notes that November, 2014 seismic event occurred in a fault area previously unknown to scientists. “If the well is in the right place next to a fault and the fault is oriented the right way, a little change in stress could cause (an earthquake) to occur,” he says.
“The source parameters and behavior of the Milan earthquake and foreshock–aftershock sequence are similar to characteristics of other earthquakes induced by wastewater injection into permeable formations overlying crystalline basement,” the USGS study abstract states.
Fracking is banned in many European countries, including France and Germany. Many Europeans are unwilling to risk despoiling the land permanently for a short term gain. Advocates claim that fracking can do wonderful things. They say it is better than mining coal because natural gas and oil burn cleaner. That is undeniably true. But it overlooks the point that burning any fossil fuels increases the risk of raising average world temperatures to dangerous levels.
Others claim fracking provides much needed jobs for oil and gas workers. Once again, that is true. But building renewable energy systems like solar and wind facilities can create jobs as well without pumping more carbon dioxide and methane emissions into the atmosphere.
The final and most important point is that injecting massive quantities of toxic chemicals into our groundwater is a hazard to future generations. Fracking makes communities into cesspools for economic gain. Are we really willing to exchange a healthy environment for few shekels when their are less expensive, less invasive solutions available? Solutions that will make clean, renewable energy available to all and are just waiting to be used?
For the sake of our children and grandchildren, we should stop using short term solutions for our long term needs.