Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Flurry of Earthquake 'Anomolies' Caused by Fracking?

Update: March 9, 2012:
A series of Ohio earthquakes were caused by fracking according to State officials. Tough new laws will regulate drilling and disposal of waste.*

The 5.6 earthquake which struck Oklahoma in late 2011 was the latest in a string of 'rare' earthquakes shaking the normally geologically quiet interior or North America.

These previously unusual events are raising fresh concerns that the use of fracking and the disposal of fracking fluids may be causing the quakes.

Fracking is the fracturing of layers of rock with high pressure fluids to release pockets of trapped gas and oil. Increases in energy prices and Bush era deregulation has led to a wide use of this technique with thousands of new wells brought on line in the past few years.

This proliferation in fracking has coincided with numerous earthquakes in unusual locations. Recent studies indicate that culprit may actually be the disposal wells. Fracking produces lots of waste fluid which is collected and injected at high pressures into disposal wells.

Earthquakes caused by this type of wells is not the paranoid imaginings of environmental zealots. In this recent report, the Oklahoma Geological Survey studied a swarm of earthquakes in Garvin County, OK in January of this year, which began within hours of a new and deep hydro-fracturing project nearby.
The Geological Survey stopped short of definitively blaming the earthquakes on the fracking operation, but noted
"...The strong correlation in time and space as well as a reasonable fit to a physical model suggest that there is a possibility these earthquakes were induced by hydraulic-fracturing."
Typically, the report concludes that it is impossible to say definitely if the quakes were caused by fracking, but other locations hit by anomalous quakes are satisfied they have enough proof.

In June of this year, Cuadrilla Resources was forced to suspend its' fracking operation after it admitted it caused a swarm of earthquakes in normally seismically peaceful northwest England.

February, 2011: Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission issued an emergency moratorium on new injection wells due to a 4.7 magnitude quake as part of a suspicious swarm of earthquakes in the area.

In August of 2009, Chesapeake, one of the largest oil and gas exploration companies in the area, was forced to shut down two wells in the Dallas/Fort Worth area after they were linked to a swarm of earthquakes.

In other events, fracking was suspected, but no action taken:

Drilling Rig
In October 2011, a rare 4.8 magnitude quake hit in near San Antonio, Texas. This occurred in an area which has been heavily drilled and fracked.

In August of 2011, a rare 5.8 quake hits Virginia and is felt all over the east coast. Speculation ensues that dramatically increased fracking in the area may have triggered this rare event.

The same day, a southern Colorado 5.3 earthquake occurred in the same area as a swarm of possible fracking induced quakes investigated in 2001 by the USGS. Three months before the August 2011 quake, the EPA announced plans to study the impacts of fracking on drinking water in that area.

No one knows the impact of the large-scale fracturing of the earth's crust or the ramifications of high pressure injection of waste fluids deep underground. The evidence is mounting of a direct connection between these practices and unusual earthquake activity, but it may be impossible to scientifically prove.

These strange quakes have caused quite a bit of damage but no deaths so far. Energy companies continue to deny any connection between earthquakes and fracking or disposal of fracking fluids. The evidence, however, continues to pile up.

How many 'rare' earthquakes does it take before we acknowledge a pattern? And what price are we willing to pay, in lives and property, for the promise of 'cheap' energy?

*Update: March 09, 2012:
A series of Ohio earthquakes were caused by fracking according to State officials. Tough new laws will regulate drilling and disposal of waste.

In this report, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said:
"After investigating all available geological formation and well activity data, ODNR regulators and geologists found a number of co-occurring circumstances strongly indicating the Youngstown area earthquakes were induced," state officials stated. "Specifically, evidence gathered by state officials suggests fluid from the Northstar 1 disposal well intersected an unmapped fault in a near-failure state of stress causing movement along that fault."

Article first published as Flurry of Earthquake 'Anomolies' Caused by Fracking? on Technorati.

drill rig: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Drilling_for_gas_and_oil_in_Dalby_Forest_February_2007_-_geograph.org.uk_-_343560.jpghttp://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki
seismograph: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kinemetrics_seismograph.jpg

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