“The man-made earthquakes that have been shaking up the southern United States only stand to get stronger and more dangerous as the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, increases, scientists warned at a Thursday conference.
According to multiplereports, scientists attending the Seismological Society of America annual meeting agreed that fracking can change the state of stress on existing faults to the point of failure, causing earthquakes. That stress is generally not caused by fuel extraction itself, but by a process called “wastewater injection,” where companies take the leftover water used to frack wells and inject it deep into the ground.
Though it was previously believed that the man-made earthquakes could not exceed a 5.0 magnitude, many now say that larger quakes could become the norm as more and more water is stored underground.
“I think ultimately, as fluids propagate and cover a larger space, the likelihood that it could find a larger fault and generate larger seismic events goes up,” Western University earth sciences professor Gail Atkinson reportedly said at the meeting.
Because of this and other warnings, the U.S. government also announced on Thursday that it would begin to track the risks that these so-called “frackquakes” pose, and start including them on official maps that help influence building codes.
Though the U.S. Geological Survey is known for mapping regular earthquakes and alerting local governments about their risks, it has never taken man-made quakes into account. It made the decision to do so, however, after finding that two strong earthquakes in heavily-drilled areas of Colorado and Oklahoma in 2011 were likely the result of wastewater injection from fracking.
Wastewater injection is not the only thing connected to what the USGS is now calling “induced” earthquakes, however. Gail Atkinson, an earthquake scientist at Western University in Ontario, told the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday that the actual process of extraction from fracking could be causing the quakes as well. Fracking is uniquely characterized by its process — injecting high-pressure streams of water, chemicals, and sand into underground rock formations, “fracturing” the rock to release oil and gas. This could also trigger the quakes, Atkinson said.
“Waste water is the dominant cause,” she said. “But what we are seeing as time goes on is that there are also events being induced from hydraulic fracture operations.”
Thursday’s warning is just one more bullet on a list of scientific papers warning of fracking-induced quakes. Researchers at Southern Methodist University, for example, recently linked a string of 2009 and 2010 earthquakes in Texas to the injection of fracking wastewater into the ground. In early 2013, fracking wastewater disposal was also linked to the 109 earthquakes that shook Youngstown, Ohio in 2011 — an area that hadn’t ever experienced an earthquake before an injection well came online in December 2010.
Despite the research, many involved in bringing fracking operations to fruition in some of the more earthquake-ridden places don’t believe a link exists. After experiencing more than 30 small earthquakes in three months, residents of the north Texas town of Azle in January traveled three hours to a Texas Railroad Commission meeting in Austin, urging commissioners to halt the use of the wells.
Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman, however, refused to acknowledge a connection.
“It’s not linked to fracking,” he said at the time. “If we find a link then we need to take a hard look at all these injection wells in this area. Reexamine them … Perhaps there something that we’re not aware of underground.”
One week of fracking earthquakes across the country December 11, 2013 through December 17, 2013:
All the major fracking shale injection operations showed earthquake activity in just one weeks time.
“WASHINGTON — The swarm of earthquakes went on for months in North Central Texas, rattling homes, with reports of broken water pipes and cracked walls and locals blaming the shudders on the fracking boom that’s led to skyrocketing oil and gas production around the nation.
Darlia Hobbs, who lives on Eagle Mountain Lake, about a dozen miles from Fort Worth, said that more than 30 quakes had hit from November to January.
“We have had way too many earthquakes out here because of the fracking and disposal wells,” she said in an interview.
While the dispute over the cause remains, leading geophysicists are now saying Hobbs and other residents might be right to point the finger at oil and gas activities.
“It is certainly possible, and in large part that is based on what else we’ve seen in the Fort Worth basin in terms of the rise of earthquakes since 2008,” William Ellsworth, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist, said in an interview Thursday.
Ellsworth said the Dallas-Fort Worth region previously had just a single known earthquake, in 1950.
Since 2008, he said, there have been more than 70 big enough to feel. Those include earthquakes at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport that scientists linked to a nearby injection well.
Ellsworth briefed his colleagues on his findings Thursday at the Seismological Society of America’s annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.
Researchers also are investigating links between quakes in Kansas, Oklahoma, Ohio and elsewhere to oil and gas activities. USGS seismologist Art McGarr said it was clear that deep disposal of drilling waste was responsible for at least some of the earthquakes in the heartland.
“It is only a tiny fraction of the disposal wells that cause earthquakes large enough to be felt, and occasionally cause damage,” McGarr said. “But there are so many wells distributed throughout much of the U.S. they still add significantly to the total seismic hazard.”
While causes are under debate, it’s well established that earthquakes have spiked along with America’s fracking boom. The USGS reports that an average of more than 100 earthquakes a year with a magnitude of 3.0 or more hit the central and eastern U.S. in the past four years.
That compares with an average rate of only 20 observed quakes a year in the decades from 1970 to 2000.
Regulators in Ohio found what they said was a probable connection between small quakes in the northeast corner of that state and the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which high-pressure water and chemicals are pumped underground to break up shale rock and release the oil and natural gas inside.
But the USGS considers it very rare for fracking itself to cause earthquakes. Far more often the issue is quakes caused by the disposal of the wastewater into wells.
Fracking produces large amounts of wastewater, which companies often pump deep underground as an economical way to dispose of it without contaminating fresh water. Injection raises the underground pressure and can effectively lubricate fault lines, weakening them and causing quakes, according to the USGS.
It’s a sensitive issue because the fracking boom has brought jobs and economic development, as well as abundant energy, and states are often hesitant to interfere.
Oklahoma has been struck especially hard. “Since 2009, the earthquake activity in Oklahoma has been approximately 40 times higher than in the previous 30 years,” according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which says it’s researching whether oil and gas activity is playing a role. Oklahoma has recorded more than 300 earthquakes this year, including 11 in a single day this week.
Most of the earthquakes connected to oil and gas activity are small, although a 5.7 magnitude quake in Central Oklahoma was felt as far away as Milwaukee and destroyed 14 homes. The Oklahoma Geological Survey disputes studies that link the 2011 quake to injection wells.
The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in that state, is also skeptical of the link between earthquakes and drilling.
“The commission bases its regulation on science and facts, and at this time staff have no information or science that warrants limits to drilling or hydraulic fracturing in Texas,” spokeswoman Gaye McElwain said in an email.
USGS seismologist Ellsworth said that near Fort Worth, two disposal wells were close enough to the earthquakes to be responsible. He said more research was needed to determine whether they were the cause, or whether the natural gas production itself in the Barnett Shale was responsible.
Ellsworth and his colleagues, including seismologists from Southern Methodist University, in their presentation Thursday ruled out the idea that the falling level of a nearby lake might be contributing. But he said they couldn’t entirely reject the possibility of other natural causes _ despite earthquakes being virtually unheard of in the region before 2008, a time frame that matches the start of the fracking boom.
Hobbs, of Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas, said she’d lived in the area since 1967 and never even considered the possibility of earthquakes.
“It’s spooky,” she said.
The federal government has left decisions on earthquake regulations for wastewater injection wells to the states, some of which have decided there’s enough evidence to take action. Arkansas banned new injection wells in a large region and Ohio has tightened its seismic rules.
Texas Railroad Commission spokeswoman McElwain said geology varied greatly from state to state. There are more than 144,000 disposal wells nationwide and “very few and relatively minor seismic events have been documented,” according to commission Chairman Barry Smitherman. The commission announced March 28 that it’s hired a seismologist to look into the issue.
Some in North Central Texas say the railroad commission is too slow to act and hasn’t taken the earthquakes seriously enough.
“If they don’t think the wells are the cause of the earthquakes, then let them put them in their backyard and not in ours,” said Lynda Stokes, who trains dogs and horses in Reno, Texas, and is also the part-time mayor of the town of about 3,000 people. “We’ll be happy to share.”
There are also worries in Kansas, where residents want to know what’s caused a recent surge in earthquakes in the south-central part of the state, an area where oil and gas production is on the rise. Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed a task force to look into it.
Part of the problem in getting answers is a lack of seismic monitoring equipment in Kansas, a state without a big history of earthquakes.
“Being able to capture these things better is pretty important,” said Rex Buchanan, the interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey.
Buchanan, a member of the governor’s task force, said it wasn’t clear whether the nearby injection wells were playing a role in the quakes.
“It’s a possibility, but I don’t think anybody is willing to go that far, at least nobody that is looking at this seriously at this point,” he said.
USGS seismologist McGarr attributes the quakes to drilling in the Mississippian Lime shale formation, which straddles the Kansas-Oklahoma border.
“There is little doubt that these earthquakes are due to the injection wells in that field,” he said.”
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/01/4092301_geophysicists-link-fracking-boom.html#storylink=cpy
Time magazine asks :
“Is fracking linked to earthquakes?”
They answer the question in the article.
New research indicates that wastewater disposal wells—and sometimes fracking itself—can induce earthquakes
Ohio regulators did something last month that had never been done before: they drew a tentative link between shale gas fracking and an increase in local earthquakes. As fracking has grown in the U.S., so have the number of earthquakes—there were more than 100 recorded quakes of magnitude 3.0 or larger each year between 2010 and 2013, compared to an average of 21 per year over the preceding three decades.
That includes a sudden increase in seismic activity in usually calm states like Kansas, Oklahoma and Ohio—states that have also seen a rapid increase in oil and gas development. Shale gas and oil development is still growing rapidly—more than eightfold between 2007 and 2o12—but if fracking and drilling can lead to dangerous quakes, America’s homegrown energy revolution might be in for an early end.
But seismologists are only now beginning to grapple with the connection between oil and gas development and earthquakes. New research being presented at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America this week shows that wastewater disposal wells—deep holes drilled to hold hundreds of millions of gallons of fluid produced by oil and gas wells—may be changing the stress on existing faults, inducing earthquakes that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Those quakes can occur tens of miles away from the wells themselves, further than scientists had previously believed. And they can be large as well—researchers have now linked two quakes in 2011 with a magnitude greater than 5.0 to wastewater wells.
“This demonstrates there is a significant hazard,” said Justin Rubinstein, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey. “We need to address ongoing seismicity.”
Rubinstein was speaking on a teleconference call with three other seismologists who have been researching how oil and gas development might be able to induce quakes. All of them noted that the vast majority of wastewater disposal sites and oil and gas wells weren’t connected to increased quake activity—which is a good thing, since there are more than 30,000 disposal wells alone scattered around the country. But scientists are still trying to figure out which wells might be capable of inducing strong quakes, though the sheer volume of fluid injected into the ground seems to be the driving factor (that’s one reason why hydraulic fracturing itself rarely seems to induce quakes—around 5 million gallons, or 18.9 million L, of fluid is used in fracking, far less than the amount of fluid that ends up in a disposal well).
“There are so many injection operations throughout much of the U.S. now that even though a small fraction might induce quakes, those quakes have contributed dramatically to the seismic hazard, especially east of the Rockies,” said Arthur McGarr, a USGS scientist working on the subject.
What scientists need to do is understand that seismic hazard—especially if oil and gas development in one area might be capable of inducing quakes that could overwhelm structures that were built for a lower quake risk. That’s especially important given that fracking is taking place in many parts of the country—like Oklahoma or Ohio—that haven’t had much experience with earthquakes, and where both buildings and people likely have a low tolerance to temblors. Right now there’s very little regulation regarding how oil and gas development activities should be adjusted to reduce quake risk—and too little data on the danger altogether.
“There’s a very large gap on policy here,” says Gail Atkinson, a seismologist at the University of Western Ontario. “We need extensive databases on the wells that induce seismicity and the ones that don’t.”
So far the quakes that seem to have been induced by oil and gas activity have shaken up people who live near wells, but haven’t yet caused a lot of damage. But that could change if fracking and drilling move to a part of the country that already has clear existing seismic risks—like California, which has an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale formation that could only be accessed through fracking (limited fracking has been done in California, but only in the lightly populated center of the state).
Environmentalists who seek to block shale oil development in the Golden State have seized on fears of fracking-induced quakes, and a bill in the state legislature would establish a moratorium on fracking until research shows it can be done safely.
Regulation is slowly beginning to catch up. In Ohio, officials this month established new guidelines that would allow regulators to halt active hydraulic fracturing if seismic monitors detect a quake with a magnitude of 1.0 or higher. But it will ultimately be up to the oil and gas industry to figure out a way to carry out development without making the earth shake.
“Posted via the USGS Volcano Notification Service (VNS) http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/vns/
Analysis of current behavior at Mount St. Helens indicates that the volcano remains active and is showing signs of long-term uplift and earthquake activity, but there are no signs of impending eruption.
Since the end of the 2004-2008 dome-building eruption at Mount St. Helens, scientists at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) have been monitoring subtle inflation of the ground surface and minor earthquake activity reminiscent of that seen in the years following the 1980-1986 eruptions.
Careful analysis of these two lines of evidence now gives us confidence to say that the magma reservoir beneath Mount St. Helens has been slowly re-pressurizing since 2008.
It is likely that re-pressurization is caused by arrival of a small amount of additional magma 4-8 km (2.5-5 miles) beneath the surface.
This is to be expected while Mount St. Helens is in an active period, as it has been since 1980, and it does not indicate that the volcano is likely to erupt anytime soon.
Re-pressurization of a volcano’s magma reservoir is commonly observed at other volcanoes that have erupted recently, and it can continue for many years without an eruption.
USGS and PNSN are continuing to monitor ground deformation and seismicity at Mount St. Helens. In an effort to learn more about activity beneath the volcano, they will conduct two additional types of measurements this summer.
Surveys will measure the types and amounts of volcanic gases being released, and the strength of the gravity field at the volcano. Both types of measurements are sensitive to changes in the amount or depth of subsurface magma.
The information collected at Mount St. Helens continues to help scientists interpret behaviors at other volcanoes and to improve eruption forecasting capabilities. Additional research results will be posted in USGS Updates, Information Statements, and on the USGS-CVO website.
In a previously planned but related development, an experiment called “Imaging Magma Under St. Helens” (iMUSH) will start this summer and run for the next few years.
The experiment, jointly funded by the National Science Foundation and USGS, is designed to produce a better picture of the magma plumbing system under the volcano. It may also provide new insights into the ongoing re-pressurization process.
The USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory and Pacific Northwest Seismic Network continue to monitor Mount St. Helens and other volcanoes of the Cascade Range for signs of increased unrest.
The likelihood of detecting short-term precursory phenomena before the next eruption at Mount St. Helens is enhanced by the existence of an effective monitoring network established in response to recent eruptions. Efforts are underway to bring networks at other dangerous volcanoes in the Cascade Range up to a similar standard.
The USGS and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at University of Washington continue to watch conditions at Mount St. Helens closely.”
After reading the above article from the USGS….
This should be no shock to those of us who have been following the other volcanic events happening over the past few months along the West Coast.
Remember this? Just over 2 weeks ago, on April 14th…… Maybe you missed it … a large plume event from Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams
Also, lets not forget what we just found out about the Yellowstone volcano.
The magma chambers associated with Yellowstone appear to be “re-pressurizing” as well, the area around Yellowstone has risen by 2 inches in just FOUR months time (since New Years 2014).
Also, in addition to the confirmed Yellowstone rise, and the confirmed Mt. Saint Helens rise …… there have been a series of earthquake swarms occurring along the NW edge of the Craton (Western edge of the Yellowstone Magma chamber) in Idaho.
Is it any wonder these events below are happening along the West Coast at the same time as all of the above?