Study Shows Fracking Leads To An Increase In Earthquakes

This study is the first to link remote earthquakes and increased seismic activity in areas with increased fluid pressure due to human activity... fracking. Image @ Ecopedia

This study is the first to link remote earthquakes and increased seismic activity in areas with increased fluid pressure due to human activity… fracking. Image @ Ecopedia

A new study published in Science has revealed that the practice of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, can lead to an increase in earthquakes. Fracking is a drilling technique which utilizes the injections of toxic chemicals, sand and water under high pressure into the ground in order to release natural gas from shale deposits. One of the criticisms regarding fracking is that this procedure creates large amounts of toxic waste water. The industry is having a difficult time managing this problem, so their solution is to inject this waste water back into the ground. Drilling sites next to residential areas have been found to leak this waste and gas into local aquifers, thus leaving people with contaminated water. The most popular example of this comes from the documentary Gasland, where we see people lighting their water on fire.

The new study creates more controversy for the practice of fracking. The study examined three major earthquakes that occurred in Japan (magnitude 9), Chile (magnitude 8.8) and Indonesia (magnitude 8.6). They observed that these earthquakes triggered quakes in places in the United States where high pressure fluids have been pumped underground. Fracking has been connected to an increase in tremors and quakes in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and Arkansas. This study also showed an increase in seismic activity in Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas in areas located around fracking sites.

Seismologists aren’t necessarily surprised by these findings. For example, naturally occurring sub-surface fluid pressures like the Yellowstone area have shown an increase in seismic activity after earthquakes, even when they occur around the world. However, this study is the first to link remote earthquakes and increased seismic activity in areas where there is increased fluid pressure due to human activity. In other words, areas which experience fracking are highly susceptible to increased seismic activity after major earthquakes, which can lead to tremors and even larger earthquakes themselves.

According to William Ellsworth of the U.S Geological Survey (wasn’t involved in the study), only quakes with a magnitude of 2, which can rarely be felt, or lower are produced by fracking. However, Nicholas van der Elst of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who led the study, found that these tremors and smaller level quakes can actually set the stage for larger earthquakes. This can happen when seismic waves run across the earth’s surface aggravating stresses by faults, which causes them to rupture and can subsequently lead to more intense earth quakes. Van der Elst states that high pressure water injection leaves faults “critically loaded”; basically meaning they are on the verge of rupturing. This event can be triggered by even the smallest seismic activity across the earth, leading to a series of earthquakes in a process called “dynamic triggering.”

The practice of fracking is a highly controversial process, spearheaded by proponents of natural gas across the political spectrum. We have known that this process contaminates local water supplies, but now it’s clear there are even larger ramifications which humans can’t control. In New York, the people have come out against the process of hydraulic fracturing and pressured Governor Cuomo to maintain a moratorium on the practice. California is currently waging a war against big oil in order to ban the practice in their state. The gas industry has a long history of suppressing scientific evidence denying climate change and they are trying to do the same thing with fracking and natural gas.

If the people fight like they did in New York, Texas, California and all around the United States, the battle against fracking can be won. However, it is up to us, the people, to remain vigilant against big oil and corporate raiders to push back their agenda and ultimately defeat it.