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Quake, Rattle, and Roll

FrackingLive in a rural area? Enjoy the serene and pristine beauty around you? Clearly, anyone would.

Do you start sweating each time that low rumble begins and your house starts to tremor? If you live within a few miles of a fracking site, that shaky ground just might become one of the charms of your cozy, country home.

Rumors of earthquakes being tied directly to fracking operations have persisted in recent years, but each day it seems more likely that this is indeed the case. A report from the Associated Press on The Christian Science Monitor cites an uptick in the amount of earthquakes in states that allow fracking. Per the United States Geological Survey (USGS), nearly 250 small or medium sized earthquakes have occurred in Oklahoma since January. The state is now averaging one per day, where the average was one per year prior to 2008. The suspected culprit in these instances is not necessarily fracking itself, but the disposal of wastewater into wells after drilling for gas. Scientists believe that this water increases underground pressure and lubricates already existing faults. This fear has lead to the implementation of rules to better monitor its disposal. The article states,

Most of the quakes in areas where injection wells are clustered are too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives. Yet they’ve led some states, including Ohio, Oklahoma and California, to introduce new rules compelling drillers to measure the volumes and pressures of their injection wells as well as to monitor seismicity during fracking operations.

Oklahoma is at the epicenter of this issue as eleven minor earthquakes shook the state’s center just this past weekend. Rueters reports that seven quakes, ranging from magnitudes 2.6 to 2.9, occurred in the northeast area of Oklahoma City over a fourteen hour period. A magnitude 4.3 earthquake hit the town of Langston on Saturday, though thankfully no one was injured.

Additionally, more than 2,500 earthquakes associated with fracking have occurred in the state within the last five years, according to Science magazine. It determined that these small earthquakes are directly linked to Oklahoma’s four most active wastewater wells. Current reports suggest that the disposal of wastewater can trigger earthquakes as far as 20 miles away. The Associated Press article states,

Danielle Sumy, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California and a former USGS visiting scientist, was the lead researcher on a study published in March that said a magnitude-5.0 quake in Oklahoma induced by nearby wastewater injection early on Nov. 6, 2011, set off subtle pressure changes that triggered earthquakes along the fault, almost like dominoes, before finding relief in the 5.7 temblor later that day.

Debate about the safety of fracking is always called into question. And despite reports of additional consequences that result from disrupting the very ground on which we stand, support for fracking has persisted, even in Ohio where recent earthquakes have been attributed to it. In April, geologists in the state found a probable connection between fracking and earthquakes in an area of the state which had never experienced one. Ohio recently shut down Hilcorp Energy’s fracking operation after five earthquakes struck near the Pennsylvania border.

There will always be a needed balance of safety, environmental concern, jobs, and a quest for energy independence when it comes to fracking. However, it’s not surprising that people who live near these sites are concerned with the possible correlation between earthquakes and the practice. Think about it. If new cracks form in your foundation, odors in your basement get worse, and that picture of little Benjamin sails past your head each time the house begins to churn, wouldn’t you be too?

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  • Nass Eftekhar

    Thanks Wayne. It was really an eye-opening article! I enjoyed reading it and decided to share it on Facebook with my friends. People have every right to know more and more about negative side of unconventional oil production!

    • Wayne Kovach

      Hi, Nass. I find it to be a tough balance between the hopeful possibility of securing our own energy future, with the reality that it has its problems and must be done safely, if done at all. Oil and gas companies sure like to tout the benefits of fracking, but are eerily quiet when it comes to anything negative.

      People who live near fracking sites report what they feel are daily, and severe, inconveniences and safety issues. Nothing short of full assurances that their well-being is a priority will dissuade them from being vocal about the dangers involved.

      Now that earthquakes are correlated, the urgency in full disclosure is even more prominent.

      Thanks for commenting.