A waste disposal process related to fracking has made Oklahoma the second most earthquake-prone state in the US after California, new research indicates.
Experts at the University of Colorado-Boulder and Cornell University say they have scientific evidence that the dumping of fracking water caused a swarm of earthquakes near Oklahoma City.
“We view the expanding Jones Earthquake Swarm as a response to regionally increased pore pressure from fluids injected at the [southeast Oklahoma City] wells,” the study’s authors wrote in the journal Science. The scientists used computer modeling to study the cause of the quakes. As pressure builds, “critically stressed, optimally oriented faults are expected to rupture first.”
The Jones Swarm was a series of earthquakes that occurred near the small town of Jones, southeast of Oklahoma City. There were more than 100 quakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater in a five-year period. The same study indicates that Oklahoma now has more earthquakes than Hawaii and Alaska.
How Oil Drillers Cause Earthquakes
A computer model showed how drillers are causing earthquakes in a process related to fracking. The drillers create the quakes when they dispose of waste water through what is called deep well injection.
Fracking involves the pumping of water, sand and chemicals down a well at high pressures. The liquids force the oil and gas to the surface so it can be extracted. The process creates large amounts of wastewater which is often dumped down deep injection wells.
University of Colorado hydrogeology professor Shemin Ge told The Los Angeles Times the method is similar to a sponge absorbing water between two stiff wooden blocks. Ge was one of the study’s authors.
The “more fluid you put in, the more pressure the sponge has to deal with,” Ge said, and “the area or volume within the sponge around the injection point will expand.”
Potential Hazard for Oklahoma City
Even small changes in pressure can cause a fault to rupture and cause an earthquake, Cornell geophysics professor Katie Keranen told The Times. Keranen and Gee blamed the Jones Swarm on just four deep injection wells in the region.
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The Swarm is now affecting the Nemaha fault which runs through Oklahoma City. They labeled the Swarm a potential hazard for the entire Oklahoma City area. A 5.6 earthquake hit the region in 2011.
More Proof in Colorado
CU-Boulder scientists found even more proof of the earthquake-waste water connection closer to home in Greeley, Colorado. They blamed a 2.6 magnitude earthquake in June and a 3.6 magnitude earthquake that struck the area on May 31 on deep injection wells.
Their findings persuaded the Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission (COGCC) to order a company called High Sierra Water Services to shut down a deep injection well near Greeley. The well was apparently the cause of the tremors in the Greeley area.
“In light of the findings of CU’s team, we think it’s important we review additional data, bring in additional expertise and closely review the history of injection at this site in order to more fully understand any potential link to seismicity and use of this disposal well,” COGCC Director Matt Lepore told a Denver TV station.
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