USGS: Fracking ‘Primary Cause’ Of Dramatic Rise In Earthquakes In Central U.S.

The practice of wastewater injection by the Oil and Gas industries is the primary reason for an increase in earthquakes in the central United States, says the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS):

“Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.”

USGS cites a paper published last week in Science. The study results from a collaboration between scientists at the USGS, the University of Colorado, Oklahoma Geological Survey and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Scientists have found that through proper management of wastewater injection, it is possible to reduce the volume of increased earthquake activity. Scientists also recommend increased transparency and data collection so further studies can be done to increase safety.

The study’s co-author, Dr. William Ellsworth, a USGS geophysicist, is asking for cooperation from those involved so consequences of wastewater injection can be averted:

“The science of induced earthquakes is ready for application, and a main goal of our study was to motivate more cooperation among the stakeholders — including the energy resources industry, government agencies, the earth science community, and the public at large — for the common purpose of reducing the consequences of earthquakes induced by fluid injection.”

USGS geophysicist Dr. Art McGarr, lead author of the study, says industry transparency will help scientists develop technology to detect problem injection sites before they trigger larger earthquakes:

“In addition to determining the hazard from induced earthquakes, there are other questions that need to be answered in the course of coping with fluid-induced seismicity,” said McGarr. “In contrast to natural earthquake hazard, over which humans have no control, the hazard from induced seismicity can be reduced. Improved seismic networks and public access to fluid injection data will allow us to detect induced earthquake problems at an early stage, when seismic events are typically very small, so as to avoid larger and potentially more damaging earthquakes later on.”

Wastewater injection associated with oil and gas production includes wastewater from fracking and other fluids related to oil and gas drilling. The harmful effects of injecting fracking wastewater back into the Earth goes much deeper than earthquakes alone.

In a study released in August of last year, scientists tested 81 compounds commonly used in the fracking process. They found that there is very little known about the potential health risks of one-third of these compounds. Worse yet, eight of the chemicals are toxic to mammals. The entire cocktail of fracking chemicals the oil and gas industry use is undisclosed which makes health risks even harder to pinpoint.

While it’s reassuring to see science catching up with the dangerous effects of wastewater injection, it begs the question… shouldn’t the science determining safety and health effects have come first?