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Fracking apparently is the cause of recent frequent earthquakes in parts of the United States where quakes are historically rare. Research indicates that tremors in Ohio, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arkansas and Texas might have been caused by fracking.
“We can’t guarantee the earthquakes aren’t a coincidence,” Austin Holland, a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, said of fracking and tremors. “But it would be a pretty remarkable coincidence.”
Holland is conducting research to see if fracking can cause earthquakes. His research was prompted by a wave of quakes in Oklahoma in recent years. Holland is not the only scientist who believes fracking might be causing quakes.
“I’d say it certainly looks very possible that the earthquakes are related to injection wells,” Cliff Frolich, an earthquake researcher at the University of Texas, told TV station KHOU. Most fracking techniques involve the injection of liquids into wells.
The basis of fracking is injecting water at underground rock at very high pressures. The pressurized water spreads out along naturally occurring fractures, forcing them wider. The stress opens new fractures, which also fill with water and widen, spreading a network of cracks through the reservoir. This opens up previously trapped pockets and allows oil and gas to flow to the well.
Reports Of Fracking-Related Earthquakes Increasing
Media reports of earthquakes in areas with lots of fracking seem to verify Frolich and Hollands’ suspicions about fracking. Recent seismic activity in areas with lots of fracking includes:
- 109 earthquakes that struck the region around Youngstown, Ohio, starting in December 2010. No earthquakes had ever been reported in Youngstown even though settlers have lived in the area since 1776. The quakes began when companies started fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shell. Shortly after work began Youngstown was struck by a 3.9 magnitude earthquake on Dec. 31, 2011. “Earthquakes were triggered by fluid injection,” Columbia University seismologist Won-Young Kim told NBC News. Kim noted that the earthquakes began less than two weeks after fracking started near Youngstown. Fracking-related earthquakes got so bad in Ohio that in January, 2012, the state’s legislature put a temporary ban on the practice.
- The town of Azle, Texas, near Fort Worth was struck by 16 earthquakes in the first three weeks of November. The US Geological Survey recorded at least one earthquake of 3.6 on the Richter scale. The quakes have gotten so frequent that local residents are now worried about them. “What if a 5.0 (magnitude earthquake) happens and people’s houses start falling down on them,” Azle’s mayor Alan Brundrett asked a reporter. Keith Krayer, a resident of Briar, near Azle, said his wife was having panic attacks because of the quakes. Krayer described one quake as sounding like a sonic boom.
- The number of magnitude 3 earthquakes in central North America increased from 29 in 2008 to 134 in 2012, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported.
- A USGS study found that there was increased earthquake activity near fracking sites in Arkansas, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio.
Could A Big One Hit?
It looks like science has confirmed the suspicion that fracking can cause earthquakes.
It is not known if fracking could cause giant quakes such as the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. There are some major earthquake faults in the regions where much of America’s fracking is taking place. The Midwest has not been struck by a major earthquake since the 19th century.
America could see a major increase in fracking because of the increased demand for natural gas.
The US Department of Energy has approved the export of natural gas to countries like China and Japan, which could increase the market and prices for the product. Chrysler recently unveiled a new kind of gas tank that could make natural-gas powered vehicles more practical and popular. Since natural gas is cheaper than gasoline or diesel fuel, it could become a popular vehicle.
If you want to see if fracking is going on in your neighborhood check the FracFocusdata website. It can pinpoint some wells by operator, county and state and from the map.