Fracking Causes Earthquakes
Direct links between the gas extraction process and recent quakes point to a seismological side effect
By Eric Niiler
Recent earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma have been directly linked to deep wells used to dispose of liquid wastes for hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" of natural gas, according to geological experts.
And they expect more earthquakes to come as the industry continues to expand across the eastern United States.
A boom in gas production using hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" of natural gas has played a role in decreasing US dependence on foreign oil and coal and helped cut energy prices, but evidence is mounting that the process may come at a price.
"To the extent that our nation wants to become independent of meeting its energy needs in the coming years, the increased earthquakes are going to go along with that," said Art McGarr, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif. "The problems are only going to grow in the future."
State officials closed disposal wells around a brine-injection well after a magnitude 4.0 quake rumbled through the Youngstown, Ohio, on New Year's Eve day. That was the 11th earthquake in 2011 in the region, which is not considered seismically active. Experts are also investigating a 5.6 magnitude earthquake east of Oklahoma City that has been linked to gas drilling there, McGarr said.
"It's reasonably clear that these Youngstown earthquakes are being caused by the disposal well activities," McGarr said. "The earthquakes started in March of last year. That's about the same period that the major injection activities started."
A team of investigators from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has been trying to figure out the connection between the earthquakes and the injection well, which takes waste fluids from nearby fracking operations, for the past few months. John Armbruster, a seismologist on the team, said the wells trigger quakes that are already poised to occur.
Armbruster compared the disposal well to a hydraulic jack that is slowly splitting an underground fault.
The well "is forcing the two sides apart and it starts to slip," Armbruster said. "The earthquake is the slip."
At least 177 similar disposal wells are located throughout Ohio, and Armbruster says it will take a while for the pressure from the fracking fluids to disperse into the earth.
During fracking, high-pressure water and chemicals are forced into shale rock to force out natural gas. Supporters say it's an efficient way to top into vast petroleum resources that lay under the Eastern United States. Homeowners and environmental groups in Pennsylvania have complained that fracking fluids have poisoned underground drinking water supplies in some areas. New York officials are considering whether to allow fracking in the Marcellus and Utica shale despots that lie underneath the state.
Armbruster said a disposal well in the western Finger Lakes area of New York was shut down in 2001 because of earthquakes. He says that he's working on a model to predict which areas near drilling sites will be susceptible to earthquakes, although there's still no way to accurately predict their size and strength.
"When you operate one of these wells, you have to monitor it more carefully and see when it begins to cause earthquakes," Armbruster said. "If you shut it down, you are much more likely to prevent a damaging earthquake that would come later."
So far, the earthquakes linked to drilling operations have been relatively minor. Both experts said they don't have enough data yet to know whether the industrial drilling could spawn more destructive ones.
U.S. Government Confirms Link Between Earthquakes and Hydraulic Fracturing
By. John C.K. Daly
On 5 November 2011 an earthquake measuring 5.6 rattled Oklahoma and was felt as far away as Illinois.
Until two years ago Oklahoma typically had about 50 earthquakes a year, but in 2010, 1,047 quakes shook the state.
In Lincoln County, where most of the seismic incidents were centered, there are 181 injection wells, according to Matt Skinner, an official from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the agency which oversees oil and gas production in the state.
Cause and effect?
The practice of injecting water into deep rock formations causes earthquakes, both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Geological Survey have concluded.
The U.S. natural gas industry pumps a mixture of water and assorted chemicals deep underground to shatter sediment layers containing natural gas, a process called hydraulic fracturing, known more informally as “fracking.” While environmental groups have primarily focused on fracking’s capacity to pollute underground water, a more ominous byproduct emerges from U.S. government studies – that forcing fluids under high pressure deep underground produces increased regional seismic activity.
As the U.S. natural gas industry mounts an unprecedented and expensive advertising campaign to convince the public that such practices are environmentally benign, U.S. government agencies have determined otherwise.
According to the U.S. Army’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal website, the RMA drilled a deep well for disposing of the site’s liquid waste after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “concluded that this procedure is effective and protective of the environment.” According to the RMA, “The Rocky Mountain Arsenal deep injection well was constructed in 1961, and was drilled to a depth of 12,045 feet” and 165 million gallons of Basin F liquid waste, consisting of “very salty water that includes some metals, chlorides, wastewater and toxic organics” was injected into the well during 1962-1966.
Why was the process halted? “The Army discontinued use of the well in February 1966 because of the possibility that the fluid injection was “triggering earthquakes in the area,” according to the RMA. In 1990, the “Earthquake Hazard Associated with Deep Well Injection--A Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency” study of RMA events by Craig Nicholson, and R.I. Wesson stated simply, “Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established.”
Twenty-five years later, “possibility” and ‘established” changed in the Environmental Protection Agency’s July 2001 87 page study, “Technical Program Overview: Underground Injection Control Regulations EPA 816-r-02-025,” which reported, “In 1967, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) determined that a deep, hazardous waste disposal well at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal was causing significant seismic events in the vicinity of Denver, Colorado.”
There is a significant divergence between “possibility,” “established” and “was causing,” and the most recent report was a decade ago. Much hydraulic fracturing to liberate shale oil gas in the Marcellus shale has occurred since.
According to the USGS website, under the undated heading, “Can we cause earthquakes? Is there any way to prevent earthquakes?” the agency notes, “Earthquakes induced by human activity have been documented in a few locations in the United States, Japan, and Canada.
The cause was injection of fluids into deep wells for waste disposal and secondary recovery of oil, and the use of reservoirs for water supplies. Most of these earthquakes were minor. The largest and most widely known resulted from fluid injection at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver, Colorado. In 1967, an earthquake of magnitude 5.5 followed a series of smaller earthquakes. Injection had been discontinued at the site in the previous year once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established.”
Note the phrase, “Once the link between the fluid injection and the earlier series of earthquakes was established.”
So both the U.S Army and the U.S. Geological Survey over fifty years of research confirm on a federal level that that “fluid injection” introduces subterranean instability and is a contributory factor in inducing increased seismic activity.” How about “causing significant seismic events?”
Fast forward to the present.
Overseas, Britain’s Cuadrilla Resources announced that it has discovered huge underground deposits of natural gas in Lancashire, up to 200 trillion cubic feet of gas in all.
On 2 November a report commissioned by Cuadrilla Resources acknowledged that hydraulic fracturing was responsible for two tremors which hit Lancashire and possibly as many as fifty separate earth tremors overall. The British Geological Survey also linked smaller quakes in the Blackpool area to fracking. BGS Dr. Brian Baptie said, “It seems quite likely that they are related,” noting, “We had a couple of instruments close to the site and they show that both events occurred near the site and at a shallow depth.”
But, back to Oklahoma. Austin Holland’s August 2011 report, “Examination of Possibly Induced Seismicity from Hydraulic Fracturing in the Eola Field, Garvin County, Oklahoma” Oklahoma Geological Survey OF1-2011, studied 43 earthquakes that occurred on 18 January, ranging in intensity from 1.0 to 2.8 Md (milliDarcies.) While the report’s conclusions are understandably cautious, it does state, “Our analysis showed that shortly after hydraulic fracturing began small earthquakes started occurring, and more than 50 were identified, of which 43 were large enough to be located.”
Sensitized to the issue, the oil and natural gas industry has been quick to dismiss the charges and deluge the public with a plethora of televisions advertisements about how natural gas from shale deposits is not only America’s future, but provides jobs and energy companies are responsible custodians of the environment.
It seems likely that Washington will eventually be forced to address the issue, as the U.S. Army and the USGS have noted a causal link between the forced injection of liquids underground and increased seismic activity. While the Oklahoma quake caused a deal of property damage, had lives been lost, the policy would most certainly have come under increased scrutiny from the legal community.
While polluting a local community’s water supply is a local tragedy barely heard inside the Beltway, an earthquake ranging from Oklahoma to Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas is an issue that might yet shake voters out of their torpor, and national elections are slightly less than a year away.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com
From OilPrice @ http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/U.S.-Government-Confirms-Link-Between-Earthquakes-and-Hydraulic-Fracturing.html
Fracking on Shaky Ground
How Our Latest Fossil Fuel Addiction Is Linked to Earthquakes
When the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio decides to buy earthquake insurance, you know we've got a big problem…
Photo Credit: todbaker
To what should be the surprise of no one, earthquakes caused by the junkie gas sector's hydraulic fracturing process, known as fracking, have been cropping up like Freud's repressed. The latest ominously arrived in Republican-dominated Ohio on New Year's Eve, quickly prompting Youngstown's mayor to buy earthquake insurance and lament, "You lose your whole house, that's your life savings, and if you have no money or no insurance to replace it, then what do you do?"
That's easy, Mayor Charles P. Sammarone, and anyone else finally learning these hard lessons: You stop fracking, which is to say you stop messing with the geological integrity of your cities, and their water tables. If you're Ohio, then you stop giving GOP industry stooges like Speaker of the House John Boehner and Governor John Kasich access to your precious natural resources. If you're the rest of the world, you accept that you have a serious problem with fossil fuel consumption, detach your complicity and support, and start planning for a future in which deregulated shale gas extraction, and its frackquake-causing disposal wells, are a desperate cry for psychoanalysis rather than an acceptable peak oil market.
Either that, or you sit back and watch as more unassuming fissures threading through your cities swell into destabilized faults in search of frackquakes, or worse.
"There has always been a scientific link between fracking and earthquakes," U.S. Geological Survey spokesperson Clarice Ransom told AlterNet. "The question of whether a hydrological injection project can interact with a nearby active fault to trigger an earthquake is still unresolved."
But not for long, as the fracking industry, emboldened by $750 million in political payouts, continues to tap the planet, stash its toxins, and according to Ransom, create more "tiny earthquakes [normally] too small to be of any concern" yet still "useful to the operators because they provide information about the fracking process."
That self-fulfilling circularity is bound to generate further predictable data with a simple premise: The purpose of hydraulic fracturing is to destabilize the ground beneath our feet to feed our energy addiction, and it has done its job with fearsome precision. At this point, saying we need more science on the cause of frackquakes is as reassuring as saying we need to cause more frackquakes for the purposes of science.
Ohio's NYE eye-opener is a perfect example. It was the 11th in a series of frackquakes in about nine months since D&L Energy started blasting brine and other fracking byproducts into wells over 9,000 feet deep, a clear trend. You can throw it on the pile with exponentially surging frackquakes in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and even England. Scientific American didn't need much more science from USGS to point out the blindingly obvious: The easiest solution to the frackquake conundrum is a "thorough seismic survey to assess tracts of rock below where oil and gas drilling fluid is disposed of [to] help detect quake prone areas."
Of course, the scientists pointed out, that would be a lot more expensive (at least, at first) than blindly blasting ahead and dealing with the frackquake fallout later. But that's what the $750 million, and rising, payoff to Republicans and Democrats was for. The last thing the industry wants are thorough assessments shutting down its profit margins by telling it where it can and can't frack.
"We are not going to stand by and let someone drive a stake through the heart of what could be an economic revival in Eastern Ohio," Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols told Bloomberg. But it's clear the fracking industry is an environmental Dracula whose dangers and risks only seem to increase as its predictable data arrives, and not just on earthquakes.
Days after Ohio's wake-up call, a fracking well owned by Chesapeake subsidiary Nomac exploded in Oklahoma, after drilling into a pressurized gas pocket. The same day, the Environmental Protection Agency considered trucking fresh water to northeast Pennsylvania to serve the needs of households whose water had been poisoned by fracking wells. New York state lawmakers are seeking to extend a moratorium on fracking, because of this increasingly worrisome data, as well as the brutally frank assessments of previous fracking regulators like Paul Hetzler.
"Let me be clear," Hetzler wrote in a letter, "hydraulic fracturing as it's practiced today will contaminate our aquifers. Not might contaminate our aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing will contaminate New York's aquifers."
There's little room for scientific curiosity in Hetzler's bold proclamation, as well as the scientific link between fracking and earthquakes. Last month, USGS geologist Arthur McGarr presented a new paper at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting that quantified a proportional relationship between the volume of fluid injected into the ground and the strength of the resultant frackquake. Inject around 10,000 cubic meters of fluid, and you're likely to land a 3.3. magnitude frackquake at maximum, with a 0.4 increase each time you double the volume. Sounds like simple enough math, so what's the problem?
"Dr. McGarr's presentation at AGU indicates that it is still an unresolved issue that there is the possibility that a small-scale fluid injection project may trigger a much larger earthquake on a preexisting fault," Ransom explained to AlterNet. "To date, there are no case histories in which a small-scale fluid injection project triggered a larger-scale earthquake on a nearby fault. More research is needed, though, to resolve the question of whether small injection operations can trigger much larger earthquakes."
To resolve these issues, to quote the USGS's demanding jargon, it is going to need those expensive but thorough seismic surveys, and more frackquakes will of course help. But to settle the issue -- using legal jargon, which the fracking industry better get used to --- scientists and the rest of us need only decrease fracking activity and watch as the freak geological events shrink. Other terrible things will go away as well, including poisoned aquifers, flammable water, skyrocketing insurance premiums and further dependency on an energy sector that simply cannot keep pace with our historical rate of hyperconsumption.
Until that happens, households anywhere within shouting distance of fracking operations, which are attracting attention from major players like Chevron and Exxon, would be well advised to peruse the USGS National Seismic Hazard Maps to fully school themselves on the precious resources, and post-extraction dangers, locked in the fragile ground beneath their feet. Ransom also suggests that anyone living in the 39 states at risk for moderate to large earthquakes memorize the USGS handbook Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country.
How long it will it be before states at risk for smaller earthquakes that could turn into larger ones decide to read the same? Probably sooner than you think.
From Alternet @ http://www.alternet.org/environment/153717/Fracking_on_Shaky_Ground:_How_Our_Latest_Fossil_Fuel_Addiction_Is_Linked_to_Earthquakes/?page=entire
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