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Fracking, Not Just Fracking Wastewater Injection, Causing Earthquakes

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A groundbreaking study published today in Seismological Research Letters has demonstrated a link, for the first time, between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas and earthquakes.

Hydraulic Fracturing and Seismicity in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin” confirms the horizontal drilling technique (which in essence creates an underground mini-earthquake to open up fissures for oil and gas extraction) is responsible for earthquakes, above and beyond what is already canonized in the scientific literature. We already knew that injecting fracking waste into underground wells can cause quakes. But now it’s not just the injections wells, but the fracking procedure itself that can be linked to seismicity.

The study focuses on an area in Canada known as the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (WCSB), one of Canada’s biggest shale basins and tight oil and gas producing regions.

The researchers “compared the relationship of 12,289 fracking wells and 1,236 wastewater disposal wells to magnitude 3 or larger earthquakes in an area of 454,000 square kilometers near the border between Alberta and British Columbia, between 1985 and 2015,” explained a press release. They “found 39 hydraulic fracturing wells (0.3% of the total of fracking wells studied), and 17 wastewater disposal wells (1% of the disposal wells studied) that could be linked to earthquakes of magnitude 3 or larger.”

If that sounds like a fairly small percentage, Atkinson and colleagues readily admit that is the case in the study. Yet they also write that it could portend worse things to come as more and more wells are fracked in the region.

“It is important to acknowledge that associated seismicity occurs for only a small proportion of hydraulic fracturing operations,” they wrote, proceeding to cite another paper written in 2015 by lead author Gail Atkinson — a professor of earth sciences at the University of Western Ontario — and colleagues on the impacts of induced seismicity. “However, considering that thousands of such wells are drilled every year in the WCSB, the implications for hazard are nevertheless significant, particularly if multiple operations are located in close proximity to critical infrastructure.”

The Western Canada Sedimentary Basin uses less water during fracking operations than in places like the current mecca of frackquakes, Oklahoma. In the paper, the authors also conclude that the massive amount of wastewater incidents in the U.S. may cloak the impact fracking has had on induced seismicity in the central U.S., which calls for more scientific investigation.

“[I]t is possible that a higher-than-recognized fraction of induced earthquakes in the United States are linked to hydraulic fracturing, but their identification may be masked by more abundant wastewater-induced events,” they explained.

One of their most important finds appears to be the definitive link the researchers found between fracking and earthquakes in the region, rather than the sheer number of quakes. They also found no link between the amount of fluid pumped into the ground during fracking and the size of the earthquake.

“More than 60% of these quakes are linked to hydraulic fracture, about 30-35% come from disposal wells, and only 5 to 10% of the earthquakes have a natural tectonic origin,” said Atkinson in a press release. And “if there isn’t any relationship between the maximum magnitude and the fluid disposal, then potentially one could trigger larger events if the fluid pressures find their way to a suitably stressed fault.”

What’s the big takeaway, then, according to the paper? Of course, a call for more investigation, but in the meantime they also call for more thoughtful public policy moving forward.

“The nature of the hazard from hydraulic fracturing has received less attention than that from wastewater disposal, but it is clearly of both regional and global importance,” they wrote in the conclusion. “The likelihood of damaging earthquakes and their potential consequences needs to be carefully assessed when planning HF operations in this area.”

DeSmog Blog



29 Comments on "Fracking, Not Just Fracking Wastewater Injection, Causing Earthquakes"

  1. HARM on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 8:09 pm 

    “A groundbreaking study published today in Seismological Research Letters has demonstrated a link, for the first time, between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas and earthquakes.”

    And will go absolutely nowhere, because fracking –much like it’s even worse cousin, mountaintop removal coal mining– is so essential to maintaining BAU. No environmental price is deemed too high for (mostly poor and disenfranchised) local residents to pay. Thanks to the Bush/Cheney Administration, we’re not even allowed to *know* what chemicals go into fracking fluid, as the oil & gas companies’ “right” to secrecy trumps our right to clean and safe drinking water.

  2. makati1 on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 8:27 pm 

    Harm, fraking is ending. It never was a profitable idea, just another financial bubble blown to cover the collapsing US economy.

  3. HARM on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 8:48 pm 

    @Makati,

    If the U.S. economy is “collapsing”, then how do you explain the housing and stock markets both reaching new highs? Even the unemployment rate is down (and yes, I know the U-3 numbers underreport unemployment. Even still, it’s been steadily falling).

    My wife and I’ve been all over the American West Coast in the last 2 months and have seen the precise OPPOSITE of “collapse”: full shopping malls (and carts), a red-hot housing market from Seattle to Los Angeles, with 2007-style multiple over-bids common, freeways jammed with commuters/shoppers and no signs of mass layoffs anywhere.

    If the recent downturn in fracking activity is causing a “collapse” here, it’s certainly news to me and ~60 million west coast residents.

  4. HARM on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 8:54 pm 

    This here is clear evidence of a general collapse:
    http://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/images/user3303/imageroot/2016/03/28/20160329_cs1.jpg

  5. Davy on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 8:57 pm 

    Harm, not sure how old you are but when I was a kid my 45 records would skip once they got worn out. That reminds me of Makati. While I do not agree with your assertion of economic health I dismiss Makati as a failed message.

  6. Boat on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 9:02 pm 

    mak,

    They are still fracking. Ever read charts?

  7. HARM on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 9:05 pm 

    I’ve taken a huge amount of flak here recently for being a cornucopian anti-doomer (I’m not) and/or a shill for the oligarchs (also not true). Simply for pointing out that we vastly underestimated the power and resourcefulness of central banksters and oligarchs to perpetuate an evil system at the expense of everyone –and everything– else.

    I’ve said it before, and will again: underestimating one’s opponent is NOT a good strategy for success in anything.

    The oligarchs have proven to be *geniuses* at perpetuating BAU and kicking the can. How they’ve reinflated the housing and other credit bubbles in 5 short years is nothing short of astonishing. How they’ve deferred Hubbert’s Peak for (at least) a generation with fracking/shale/tar/offshore oil and surpassed the previous U.S. peak in 1971 is nothing short of awe inspiring.

    We should be both horrified and awed by their raw power and ability to shape reality in Cheney-like fashion. It’s starting to look like the 0.01% can achieve virtually ANYTHING they want politically and economically.

    The only limits to what they can do are the physical laws of the universe (if those…?).

  8. Pennsyguy on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 9:11 pm 

    With about 300K+ oil and gas wells drilled for fracking in the U.S., I’ll bet some, if not many, will cause fracking fluids to enter lakes, rivers or aquifers in the decades ahead. Another case of short term profits for the few, long term devastation for whomever is left. Then there will also be the the detritus of the failed nuclear dream. The future will be Easter Island writ large.

  9. antaris on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 9:13 pm 

    Harm I live just outside Vancouver bc. We have over 30 tower cranes building apartments and house prices have never been higher. It is all being fuelled by Asian money as most people who grew up in Canada cannot afford to move here. I have said before, this reminds me of a racing engine that runs the strongest just before it blows up.

  10. Boat on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 9:19 pm 

    Pennsyguy,

    The fluids mix with the oil. So what’s your point? You think somehow that nasty chemical laden oil gets dirtier?

  11. HARM on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 9:23 pm 

    @antaris,

    With 1.3 BILLION (with a “B”) Chinese racing to equal or surpass Americans’ wealth, GDP and standard of living, do you still believe this is only a temporary phenomenon? I used to make jokes about this during the last bubble. Turns out, the joke was on me (and all other working class Americans, Canadians & Aussies).

    We will become are becoming second-class citizens in our own land.

  12. HARM on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 9:25 pm 

    Clearly a sign things are “cooling off”:
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-03-29/case-shiller-home-prices-jump-driven-west-coast-chinese-buyers

  13. antaris on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 9:59 pm 

    Who knows, maybe things won’t blow up but keep getting crazier.

  14. HARM on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 10:40 pm 

    Between fully recapitalized (at our expense) U.S. & European banks and hordes of cash-flush Chinese looking to launder untold $billions, I’d say we’re pretty much screwed in my neck of the woods.

    And I don’t get the sense we’re near a top or turning point at all. Back in 2006-2007, you saw tons of articles about strawberry pickers buying $759k houses, NINJA and negatively amortizing loans, etc. This time, it’s private equity funds with unlimited Fed-provided 0% lines of credit and all-cash Chinese buyers.

    These buyers are not like those buyers. The strawberry picker does not have a $Trillion line of Fed credit or suitcases crammed with $100 bills.

  15. makati1 on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 11:45 pm 

    Boat, the US economy/financial system is collapsing, do you ever read the charts? LMAO

  16. makati1 on Thu, 31st Mar 2016 11:53 pm 

    Boat, FYI, I do not give a rats ass about the price of oil or whether it has peaked or is about over. I watch current events from day to day, all over the world. Oil is the least of our problems.

    In fact, it would be best for all of us if the whole financial house of cards collapsed today and never recovered, taking down Wall Street, the USD, the oily business and all of the TBTF banks and corporations. Then, those who survived might have a chance.

  17. makati1 on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 12:20 am 

    Antaris, there have been, on average, 100+ condo towers of at least 30-50 floors, going up in Manila, each year,for the last 8 years that I have lived here. I can count 7 in the 4 block radius of the one I live in now. It takes 2-3 years to complete one from demo of the existing building to the move-in date.

    Most of that construction is powered by Filipinos who work overseas (~10 million) and are buying them to live in when they return, for their family to live in now, or to rent as future income. They have no idea that they will likely be useless/worthless in the future when the SHTF and the city is not livable. The building usually doesn’t break ground until 1/3 of the condos are sold and under contract with a 20% down payment and almost all of the towers are owned by the big banks.

    I have resisted the urge to buy one and saved a lot of Pesos over those 8 years that would ave gone into condo fees, taxes, insurance, etc. I can move anytime I want and not worry about selling it or renting it out. As I hope to do next year sometime.

    Yes, I pay rent as most Americans do even in the Us. But, it is half my previous Us rent with more advantages and conveniences. A win-win, I think.

    How many of those Asian buyers will get stuck with unsalable, unlivable boxes in the near future? All, I think. Desperation usually breeds stupidity as can be seen all around us today.

  18. Davy on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 6:00 am 

    Another BRIC achievement to crow about. Where is the unity and support when things are bad? We need a Putin press conference and handshakes for the camera with a Putin organized and China funded Olympic bail out so the games can go on. The Bric bank and China’s development bank should be good for something. B r I c s, B r I c s, B r I c s

    “Olympics In Doubt As Brazil Sports Minister Quits, Rio Governor Says “This Is The Worst Situation I’ve Ever Seen”
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-03-31/olympics-doubt-brazil-sports-minister-quits-rio-governor-says-worst-situation-ive-ev

    “In less than five months, Brazil is expected to host the Summer Olympics. If you follow LatAm politics, you know that that is an absolute joke. Last summer, the country descended into political turmoil and the economy sank into what might as well be a depression. Nine months later, inflation is running in the double digits, output is in freefall, and unemployment is soaring. On Wednesday, the government reported its widest primary budget deficit in history and less than 24 hours later, the central bank delivered a dire outlook for growth and inflation.”

  19. Davy on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 6:07 am 

    More Bric achievments.

    “China Unveils ‘Trumpian’ Tariffs On All Foreign Goods”
    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-03-31/china-unveils-trumpian-tariffs-all-foreign-goods

    “Having glad-handed with President Obama just this morning, and complained of a “sluggish global economy,” that ironically his credit-fuelled mal-investment maelstrom enabled via its deflationary forces, Chinese President Xi appears to have moved on from currency wars to protectionism as WSJ reports China is tightening its grip on cross-border e-commerce, imposing a new tax system on all overseas purchases. While Trumpian tariffs are dismissed as crazy talk by America’s establishment, it seems China took first-mover advantage to boost “Made-in-China” products at the expense of the rest of the world.”

    “The changes in taxes come as the Chinese economy is slowing down and the deceleration is crimping tax revenues. Tax revenues grew 4.8% last year, compared with 7.8% in 2014. Beijing is looking for new sources of growth and revenue, and is trying to guide the economy to rely more on consumption and less on investment and industry. At the same time, Beijing is anxious to build up domestic businesses to provide jobs.”

  20. JuanP on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 9:52 am 

    Davy, Why do you feel so threatened by the BRICS that you need to attack and put them down on a daily basis? You do realize that they comprise about half the human species? Why do you hate the BRICS so much? You are a terrorism sponsoring exceptionalist USA citizen. You should stop talking down the rest of the world if you want humanity to not hate what you represent and stand for.

    With every comment you write more people hate the USA and their people. You are a disgrace to your country.

  21. Davy on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 11:32 am 

    Just reminding extremist like you Juan that your message is a failure. I am balancing the excessive and distorted anti-merikan rhetoric from disgusting people like you who preach hate and death. The balancing is not me trying to defend the undefendable US failures, no, it is discrediting those like you that preach excessive anti-merikan negativity then preach your gospel according to the Brics. That’s all Juan why are you such an uptight asshole? Go home to your stupid South American continent that is a mess because of stupid people like you. We don’t need freeloaders in our country that take and hate.

  22. GregT on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 11:53 am 

    “Beijing is looking for new sources of growth and revenue, and is trying to guide the economy to rely more on consumption and less on investment and industry.”

    What else is Beijing supposed to do when demand for her exports has tapered off so much? She has no choices other than a slowdown in growth, or to look for new markets, either externally or internally.

    “it seems China took first-mover advantage to boost “Made-in-China” products at the expense of the rest of the world.”

    It seems that China is tired of boosting western economies, at the expense of the Chinese worker. As was to be expected, and predicted.

    zerohedge is not the same as it was a short while ago. It appears that it has now been completely infiltrated by the AFP. More of the same BS that is being spewed constantly by the US MSM.

  23. Davy on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 12:16 pm 

    Zerohedge is about as anti-merkican as they come. It is especially harsh on the DC/NY political economic establishment. They are down on central banks. They are down on hypocrisy and corruption anywhere. They are economic doomers and dismiss the cornucopian narrative that is a clear failure. They are pro-Russian and used to be pro-ALL-Brics but that is lost cause. They are now down on China especially because China is the worst of all worlds rolled into one.

    The fact that Zerohedge is talking down some of the Brics is horrible for anti-merikans. China was supposed to crush the US and the evil dollar. Anything in between a strict anti-merikan and pro Bric message is heresy and instantly labeled as us msm flag waiving and programmed thinking. What a joke that agenda is proving out to be as one huge message failure.

  24. GregT on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 12:30 pm 

    Merely attempting to display a bit of balance Davy. The articles that you keep linking to from Zerohedge as of late, are entirely focussed on the effect, while blatantly ignoring the cause.

  25. GregT on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 12:32 pm 

    We need a Putin press conference and handshakes for the camera with a Putin organized and China funded Olympic bail out so the games can go on. The Bric bank and China’s development bank should be good for something.

    Meet the IOC, a foul band reeking of corruption and manipulation

    https://www.gn.apc.org/blog/meet-ioc-foul-band-reeking-corruption-and-manipulation-andrew-jennings

  26. Davy on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 1:10 pm 

    Good boy Greg but you need to work harder at it.

  27. GregT on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 1:14 pm 

    Thanks for the encouragement Dad.

  28. Practicalmaina on Fri, 1st Apr 2016 2:37 pm 

    Harm mountain topping is finally going away. Coal exports are going away, China does not have the water to buy that shit anymore, neither will India.
    300k fracked wells in this country, what a waste of resourses. It causes earthquakes hurricanes floods droughts aka famine, is there anything it can’t do….sustain it’s production without bankrupting us financially and environmentaly.

  29. Kenz300 on Sat, 2nd Apr 2016 8:05 am 

    Busted! Fracking Chemical Found in Wyoming Water Supply | CleanTechnica

    http://cleantechnica.com/2011/11/13/epa-finds-fracking-chemical-and-other-pollutants-in-drinking-water-of-pavillion-wyoming/

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