Fracking-linked earthquakes likely to worsen – seismologists

Published time: May 02, 2014 03:40

David McNew / Getty Images / AFP

David McNew / Getty Images / AFP

Ongoing hydraulic fracking operations will only exacerbate seismic activity, leading to heightened earthquakes in areas where wastewater is injected deep underground, according to new research.

To unleash natural gas, hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – requires large volumes of water, sand, and chemicals to be pumped underground. Scientists attending the Seismological Society of America (SSA) annual meeting said Thursday that this storage of wastewater in wells deep below the earth’s surface, in addition to fracking’s other processes, is changing the stress on existing faults, which could mean more frequent and larger quakes in the future.

Researchers previously believed quakes that resulted from fracking could not exceed a magnitude of 5.0, though stronger seismic events were recorded in 2011 around two heavily drilled areas in Colorado and Oklahoma.

“This demonstrates there is a significant hazard,” said Justin Rubinstein, a research geophysicist at the US Geological Survey (USGS), according to TIME magazine. “We need to address ongoing seismicity.”

Not all of the more than 30,000 fracking disposal wells are linked to quakes, but an accumulating body of evidence associates an uptick in seismic activity to fracking developments amid the current domestic energy boom.

The amount of toxic wastewater injected into the ground seems to provide some clarity as to what causes the earthquakes. A single fracking operation uses two to five million gallons of water, according to reports, but much more wastewater ends up in a disposal well.

 

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