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Report highlights how natural gas “fracking” is causing earthquakes

Report highlights how natural gas “fracking” is causing earthquakes thumbnail

North-central Texas is experiencing a surge in earthquakes like never before, and a recent study says the cause could be natural gas hydraulic fracturing, a process more popularly known as “fracking.”

The liquid waste left over from pumping natural gas out of the ground is apparently greasing little-known fault lines in the region near Dallas-Fort Worth, triggering waves of earthquakes that, in some cases, are damaging buildings and people’s homes.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS), the study evaluated seismic activity near fracking disposal wells located underneath the Barnett Shale, as well as near drilling sites on the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.

Seismologists found that fracking waste water is creating conditions whereby otherwise stable fault lines are slipping from all the added moisture. In each of the areas where earthquakes had occurred, this waste was present.

Prior to these wells being established, there were few, if any, earthquakes in the region. But today, earthquake frequency has grown exponentially — up to eight times more, in fact, than previous estimates linking fracking to newfound seismic activity.

“It is possible that some of these earthquakes have a natural origin,” wrote Dr. Cliff Frohlich, a senior research scientist at the University of Texas’ Institute for Geophysics and one of the study’s authors, “but it is implausible that all are natural.”

Two earlier studies linked fracking to earthquakes

Building upon earlier research, which also found a link between natural gas drilling and earthquakes, the new study identified eight groups of earthquakes that occurred within two miles of the disposal sites. Prior to this report, only two groups of earthquakes had been associated with the wells.

What’s more, the waste wells closest to the earthquakes’ epicenters just so happened to have the highest amounts of waste going into them every month. It is this positive correlation that, combined with the findings of previous studies, supports the hypothesis that these wells are directly responsible for triggering earthquakes.

“All the wells nearest to the earthquake groups reported maximum monthly injection rates exceeding 150,000 barrels (equivalent to 6.3 million gallons) of water per month since October 2006,” explains the study.

“If you’re a company, you might want to inject at lower volumes than that,” added Dr. Frohlich.

Earthquakes caused by fracking can be “fun,” says scientist in support of industry

In defense of the natural gas industry, Dr. Frohlich has attempted to whitewash the issue by claiming that it really isn’t a big deal. Even though some folks in the affected areas are reporting damage to their homes, Dr. Frohlich believes the earthquakes aren’t really much of a concern.

“It’s not entirely clear to me that you need to stop [the quakes],” he stated, likening the relatively minor rumbles to a common thunderstorm. “It’s actually kind of fun,” he added about the shaking movements.

To simplify the mechanics behind this phenomenon, Dr. Frohlich compares it to an air hockey table. When the air is off, the puck won’t move even when pushed — this is how the ground under Texas normally is without drilling. When this air is on, however, the puck moves freely, which is similar to how fracking waste water loosens fault lines.

“It wants to move but it can’t,” said Dr. Frohlich. “Until you pump fluids in there and it slips.”

Natural News

5 Comments on "Report highlights how natural gas “fracking” is causing earthquakes"

  1. rockman on Sun, 25th Jan 2015 10:49 am 

    Foremost the evidence indicates these tremors are NOT related to the frac’ng process. Using the word “fracking” in the title is pure propaganda IMHO.

    “The angst in North Texas has a familiar ring to it. Earthquakes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arkansas the past few years have all been tied to wastewater injection wells. New research presented at the Seismological Society of America annual meeting last month showed that disposal wells may be changing stress on existing faults and inducing earthquakes”.

    The vast majority (probably 99%) of fluids put down disposal wells is NOT recovered frac fluids. Most commonly it’s salt water from producing oil wells.

    As far as claiming to being thrown on top of the stove I’ll classify that as BS until I see a video or a report from the USGS showing a tremor of sufficient strength to cause such action. None of that magnitude have been reported. And if one wishes to piss away a couple of hours of their life just search the web for “earth quake movement” and you’ll discover nearly all the movement is lateral. It will rattle a structure (or a person)sideways…not vertically. The shock wave will knock you down…not up.

    “While residents have only reported around 30 earthquakes to the U.S. Geological Survey, area seismologists have recorded more than 300 quakes in the area since December — many too small for human detection — all clustered around area injection wells. The earthquakes have been relatively small, less than a magnitude 4.0 — not big enough to cause major damage but alarming enough to spur state leaders into action.”

    So “earth quakes” measuring 4.0 or less. And how unique are such tremors? According to the USGS there are an estimated average of 1.4 MILLION tremors measuring 4.0 or less every year in just the USA.

    There is a very long and well documented history of water injection causing fault slippage resulting in tremors. One of the most significant events was created by the US gov’t almost 50 years ago: “The Rocky Mountain Arsenal was a United States chemical weapons manufacturing center located in the Denver Metropolitan Area in Commerce City, Colorado. The site was operated by the United States Army throughout the later 20th century and was controversial among local residents until its closure in 1992.


  2. rockman on Sun, 25th Jan 2015 10:52 am 

    That’s 1.4 million tremors of 4.0 or less per year in the US. And the bigger ones: 3.0 to 4.0: 130,000 per year… just in the US.

  3. surf on Sun, 25th Jan 2015 1:14 pm

    The above map shows all earthquake activity from 1973 to 2020 down to 3.5 magnitude.

    The study linked to the article only involves earthquakes with a maximum magnitude of 2.5. I live in California and 2.5M earthquake are nothing to be worried about. You won’t feel them and they will not do damage.

    The only question is are there any faults in that area that could produce a quake large enough to do damage? That question is impossible to answer. Prudent course of action is to ban all waste disposal wells.

    It also wouldn’t hurt to start building home to current California earthquake codes. After all if there is a fault capable of generating a big earthquake it will eventually produce one with or without waste injection wells. The waste injection well earthquake in 2011 in Oklahoma (magnitude 5.7) in my opinion caused way more damage than is typical in California for a quake that size.

  4. synapsid on Sun, 25th Jan 2015 3:40 pm 


    Your last paragraph in the 1:14 PM post is solid gold.

  5. Makati1 on Sun, 25th Jan 2015 7:41 pm 

    There are many fault lines in the Us that most are not aware of but they are there and will slip eventually. The New Madrid is one of them. Last time it let go, it lifted the riverbed high enough to make the Mississippi run backward between Kentucky and Memphis, Tennessee.

    Lubrication works most everywhere. It may take time, but when the slip occurs…

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