Report – fracking linked to recent Heartland earthquake activity

Uh-oh.  But remember, correlation does not imply causation: Fracking Tied To Unusual Rise in Earthquakes in U. S.

A spate of earthquakes across the middle of the U.S. is “almost certainly” man-made, and may be caused by wastewater from oil or gas drilling injected into the ground, U.S. government scientists said in a study.

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey said that for the three decades until 2000, seismic events in the nation’s midsection averaged 21 a year. They jumped to 50 in 2009, 87 in 2010 and 134 in 2011.

Those statistics, included in the abstract of a research paper to be discussed at the Seismological Society of America conference next week in San Diego, will add pressure on an energy industry already confronting more regulation of the process of hydraulic fracturing.

“Our scientists cite a series of examples for which an uptick in seismic activity is observed in areas where the disposal of wastewater through deep-well injection increased significantly,” David Hayes, the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior, said in a blog post yesterday, describing research by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey.

But before everyone panics, there are a few things to consider.

First, the evidence is still very scant.  USGS scientists can only point to a coincidence between the location of the increased seismic activity and the proximity of newly-drilled deep injection wells used to dispose of water recovered from the process of hydraulic fracturing.  Also, the use of disposal wells is itself tied to government regulations, which now prohibit the use of open air evaporation pits as a disposal mechanism for fracking wastewater.  And there is no correlation between hydraulic fracturing wells themselves, and any observed seismic activity.  Only wastewater disposal wells are cited in the study.  Finally,  the full report, which hopefully will be made public after its formal presentation next week, is still not available.

But I have to say that as a resident of Oklahoma who got rattled and rolled by a couple of good sized quakes a few months ago, I am more than a little concerned.  The story notes that according to current seismic theories, a rapid increase in tremblors similar to what has been observed in the central US would either be the result of volcanic activity, or the result of a major shock.  Neither has been observed by the USGS.

I guess the new rule for living in Oklahoma is that if the tornadoes and hail don’t get you first, the earthquakes eventually will.

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  • cirby

    Some of the “triggered” earthquakes happened 200 MILES away from the nearest fracking, so I’m going to have to go with “making it up as they go along.”

    They also sorta neglect to mention that a lot of the places that are showing increased seismic activity in the Midwest are located within shouting distance of the New Madrid fault – which is currently “dormant,” but which some geologists think has transferred a lot of its stress to surrounding areas.

    • jim_m

       As we have seen with AGW, government scientists do not let data get in the way of a politically expedient conclusion.

  • jim_m

    Once again we see that for leftists wanting to usher in a new dark ages by banning all energy development, correlation =  causation.

  • Guest

    It makes sense that if you start crack rocks deep beneath the surface of the earth you’re going to alter the geology and create the potential for earthquakes.

    This probably matters – “There’s “a difference between disposal injection wells and
    hydraulically fractured wells,” Daniel Whitten, a spokesman for
    the America’s Natural Gas Alliance, which represents companies
    such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (COG), said
    in an e-mail. “There are over 140,000 disposal wells in
    America, with only a handful potentially linked to seismic

    “We are committed to monitoring the issue and working with
    authorities where there are concerns, but it should be noted
    that currently there is no scientific data associating hydraulic
    fracturing with earthquakes that would cause damage,” he said.”

    The ANGA guy admits that the cause earthquakes, he just minimizes the connection by stating that there is no data tat says the earthquakes the trigger will cause damage.

    Well, if they cause earthquakes that’s enough for me. No reason to wait around for the ones that do cause damage. Find a way to not cause the earthquakes in the first place.

    • retired.military

      Hmmm  This is off topic but I smell the distinct odor of Bob Armstrong and Zgofish wafting from somehwhere.

    • UOG

      It makes sense? Really? Earthquakes happen when plates that normally side over each other bind at some location. Then the pressure builds, and builds until there is enough pressure to shear off the obstruction. You could just as easily suggest fracking, by softening the interface between the plates reduces the chances for an earthquake… at least at that point.

      Neither possibility is more than a hypothesis with zero scientific evidence to advance it.

      • Guest

        Yeah, it makes sense. You inject a fluid which can’t be compressed into the ground and start splitting rocks and moving stuff around and you can’t see the effects and damage that is being done.

        Besides, they admit that this is causing earthquakes but they say the earthquakes aren’t damage causing earthquakes.

        • cirby

          Don’t forget that “earthquakes” is a very broad term.

          An “earthquake” that’s only felt at the surface within a hundred yards or so of a well is still an earthquake.  For that matter, it doesn’t even have to be felt by humans – just detected.  A truck driving by on the street can be delivering more actual energy than many earthquakes.

        • And you can’t see that it is possible that it could relieve the pressure as well? Or perhaps it just coincided at the same time? It reminds me of the old myths about lunar eclipses being the cause of unrelated events. How about other areas that have seen increase in earthquakes that are nowhere near these wells?  Next they are going to blame last year’s Japanese earthquake on fracking.

          • jim_m

             pfft.  Everyone knows that eclipses don’t cause anything.  Now comets on the other hand…

    • LiberalNightmare

       Its just a few wacky steps to take us from from human action causing the earth to warm, to human action solving earthquakes.

      • iwogisdead

        Fortunately for mankind, I put a corkscrew bulb in my porch light many months ago. Global warming and earthquakes will no longer exist. I have saved mankind. I am truly great.

        • UOG

          I wonder if there is any place to put a few of those corkscrew bulbs that would rectify the current Administration’s fascination with public debt?

  • GarandFan

    Just out of morbid curiosity, is there any other place in the world where fracking is done?  If so, is their ground shaking?

    •  When last I checked, fracking (and the disposal of fracking liquid) both happened well above the plate/mantle interface…

  • GarandFan
  • If I remember correctly, there were a number of proposals in the ’70s and ’80s to inject fluid along the San Andreas fault – the theory being that by using a good lubricant, there could be ‘controlled’ releasing of the stresses.  

    Think they finally abandoned the ideas, since they couldn’t accurately predict just what would go ‘SNAP!’.  That, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which seemed to take some of the stress off the San Andreas.

    No, wait – it’s still under study, apparently. 

    Google is your friend, indeed…

  • Folks, the title of the above quoted Bloomberg article is greatly misleading.

    In his Bloomberg article, Mark Drajem states, “In hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — water, sand and chemicals are injected into deep shale formations to break apart underground rock and free natural gas trapped deep underground. Much of that water comes back up to the surface and must then be disposed of.”

    Notice that Drajem does not say that waste water from fracking is used to produce fracking. The issue is the disposal of waste water, not the fracking process. The two are separate issues. So, it appears to me that the title of Drajem’s article is misleading. Whether or not Drajem selected the title I do not know.

  • If Fracking is indeed causing the Earthquakes we should have seen them when we were doing underground Nuclear tests – These guys are trying to find data to support the theory that we’re screwing up the planet. They are not serious scientists they are hacks.

    • jim_m

       Any sort of shaft mining would produce the same effect as they use explosives to fracture the face of the rock. 

  • Commander_Chico

    Anybody see that documentary Gasland?  

    It was pretty extreme, watching the gas flames shooting out of people’s water faucets where they had water wells in the vicinity of fracking areas.

    But of course there’s no danger of groundwater contamination from the injection of these toxic chemicals into the ground.

    • Actually, if you check it out they had the methane problem long before the wells.

      CLAIM 4: “There’s never been one case—documented case—of groundwater contamination in the history of the thousands and thousands of hydraulic fracturing [wells].”  –Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., April 2011
      Popular Mechanics: The claim is true; basic geology prevents the potential of groundwater contamination. Unfortunately, PM also toys with some sketchy facts related to the town of Pavillion, WY, and surface contamination to dilute the facts.

      EID: There are zero confirmed cases of the process of hydraulic fracturing affecting groundwater.  Fluid use and transportation are highly regulated processes, and any potential cases of harm to surface waters related to accidental spills are rectified and proper fines are levied. As for Pavillion, Wyoming: chemicals found in three of thirty nine wells tested are also found in common cleaning materials. While methane was found in eight water wells, previous records indicate the presence of methane in the groundwater prior to natural gas drilling in the area. See Encana’s letter to the residents of Pavillion here.


      CLAIM 7: “Do not drink this water.” –Handwritten sign in the film GasLand, 2010

      Popular Mechanics: False. “A Colorado man holds a flame to his kitchen faucet and turns on the water…But Colorado officials determined the gas wells weren’t to blame; instead, the homeowner’s own water well had been drilled into a naturally occurring pocket of methane.”

      EID: Methane migration often occurs naturally, and such was the case in this instance. Anywhere biogenic processes are occurring, methane is being created. While improper cementing of a well could lead to methane migration, it is imperative to understand the origin of the methane before assuming that the drilling process is to blame. Interestingly enough, GasLand producer Josh Fox was well aware that methane occurs naturally, but he deliberately withheld that information in his film, leaving viewers with the impression that gas drilling could be the only culprit. More on debunking GasLand here.

      I’m thinking ‘Gasland’ is another bit of journalism that hits nicely the boundary between ‘Science Fiction’ and ‘Fictional Science’.  If you take the central visual image, the flaming water faucet – and understand just where the gas is actually coming from, the rest of the film loses its impact.

      And if they’d lie to you about that – what else in the film isn’t true?

      What can I say?  I’m just skeptical about extraordinary claims.  And it’s kind of funny, Chico – I thought you were a bit less credulous than to believe whatever random crap comes your way, even if it’s fairly tasty to your sensibilities. Come on, man, you’re skeptical as hell about anything to do with Republicans – how about widening your horizons a bit?

    • jim_m

       You do know that natural gas occurs , um, naturally in well water?