Fracking causes Earthquakes, according to new research…

America's booming shale gas industry is beginning to show some cracks as mounting evidence suggests a plausible link between hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – and earthquakes. PIF drills into the debate to find out more.

With twenty years of experience exploiting shale gas reserves, the US has reaped the benefits of fracking with 82,000 operational wells, in at least 17 states, giving rise to a 39 percent spike in shale rock oil reserves since 2011.

Fracking and earthquakes

But the American fracking industry, and its affected communities, have been shaken by reports that localised seismic activity might have been directly caused by wastewater being pumped into deep disposal wells. A lack of concrete evidence had previously diluted claims of so-called 'fracking earthquakes' but now there is growing scientific evidence to validate the concerns of green lobbyists.

Fracking causes Earthquakes?

Oklahoma is now the second most seismically active state in America

Prior to the oil and gas industry's arrival in Oklahoma residents claim that earthquake activity was few and far between. Now, since the onset of underground injection wells, it has the dubious honour of being named the second most seismically active state in America – behind California. Coincidence? Not so according to a recent study.

The Los Angeles Times reported that, “Researchers from Cornell University and the University of Colorado say a large swarm of earthquakes in central Oklahoma was probably caused by activity at a few highly active disposal wells, where wastewater from drilling operations — including hydraulic fracturing — is forced into deep geological formations for storage.”

They add that, “Four high-rate disposal wells in southeast Oklahoma City probably induced a group of earthquakes known as the Jones swarm, which accounted for 20% of the seismicity in the central and eastern United States between 2008 and 2013.”

The swarm, named after a small town east of Oklahoma City, reportedly included more than 100 earthquakes measuring a magnitude of three or greater during the course of that five-year period.

Fracking causes earthquakes

Ohio issues strict fracking permit conditions due to fracking earthquakes

Elsewhere, after geologists were able to link five small tremors near Youngstown, Ohio to fracking activity the state was quick to impose strict permit conditions on the gas extraction industry.

A recent TIME article reported that, “Ohio’s new permit conditions require natural gas companies to install sensitive seismic-monitoring equipment at drilling sites near known faults or seismic activity. If an earth tremor of greater than 1.0 magnitude is linked to fracking, operations will be halted.”

Despite widening fears that fracking causes earthquakes, perhaps the biggest worry is the remaining unpredictability of where and when these seismic episodes might occur, according to National Geographic.

They said, “Worse yet, scientists are not yet able to predict which wastewater injection sites are likely to pose risks to buildings or critical structures such as power plants, and do not yet know what operators might do to mitigate the hazard. And new research indicates that the disposal wells are capable of affecting earthquake faults that are miles away from them.”

Intensive research to map hitherto unknown faults (particularly in non-traditional earthquake zones like Oklahoma and Ohio) in greater detail, and build a picture of fracking's influence on seismic activity, continues at a pace. One thing is for certain though, the aftershocks of these new findings are likely to deeply undermine an industry that many thought could re-balance dwindling oil and gas reserves.

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