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Revealed: The Real Reason Behind Those Oklahoma Earthquakes

Image source: NYTimes

Image source: NYTimes

Fracking is causing earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states, scientists from the US Geological Survey (USGS), the University of Colorado, the Oklahoma Geological Laboratory and Lawrence Berkley Laboratory have determined.

A new paper published in the journal Science states that the disposal of wastewater created by fracking is the cause of the increasing number of earthquakes in Oklahoma and other states.

“The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging,” a USGS press release states. “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.”

The paper, Coping With Earthquakes Induced By Fluid Injection, is only the latest scientific study linking fracking to earthquakes. In July, another paper in Science blamed a series of 100 earthquakes centered on the town of Jones, Oklahoma, on fracking.

More Than In California

There were 567 earthquakes in Oklahoma of magnitude 3.0 or higher in 2014, compared to 209 in 2013 and 40 or less each year the previous five years. In fact, Oklahoma now has more earthquakes each year than California.

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The oil and gas industry, though, is pushing back against the new study.

“I don’t think it’s particularly helpful because basically, it says we’ve come to a conclusion, but we don’t have the science to back it up,” said Kim Hatfield with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association. “Oklahoma has been very geologically active over time, and that’s one of the reasons we have so many oil and gas traps.”

Fracking has caused some strong quakes, including one with a magnitude of 5.6 that produced major damage to nearby homes, scientists say.

  • Similar earthquakes have been reported in other countries where fracking is practiced, including Canada, the United Kingdom, China, Switzerland and Germany.
  • Earthquakes are now occurring in areas where they are historically uncommon. “This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes,” the press release states.
  • Some parts of Kansas and Oklahoma are now experiencing fracking-linked quakes on a daily basis, USGS Scientist William Ellsworth told the Perfect Science
  • Southern Kansas and Oklahoma have become a top risk area for earthquakes because of fracking wastewater disposal.
  • The likelihood of a large earthquake in Southern Kansas and Oklahoma is increasing because of fracking, Ellsworth said. Southern Kansas is home to the Wolf Creek Nuclear Generating Station located southeast of Emporia.

How Fracking Causes Earthquakes

The earthquakes occur when wastewater created by fracking is pumped down disposal wells deep inside the earth. There are now more than 150,000 disposal wells for fracking wastewater in the United States.

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Study co-author Art McGarr and his colleagues are asking for better monitoring of earthquakes and more studies into fracking.

“In contrast to natural earthquake hazard, over which humans have no control, the hazard from induced seismicity can be reduced,” McGarr said. “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.”

To listen to Off The Grid Radio’s in-depth interview with McGarr, click here.

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