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Study: Fracking Wastewater To Blame For Oklahoma Earthquakes

July 15th, 2014

A study published in the academic journal Science shows a correlation between the use of fracking wastewater in oil wells in Oklahoma and the increase in the incidence of small earthquakes across the state. The study used data from the Oklahoma Geological survey that showed a steep increase in the number of small earthquakes since 2009, including a quake that measured 5.6 on the Richter scale earlier this month.

How Fracking Works

The practice of fracking, known also by the scientific term “hydraulic fracturing”, uses high-pressure liquid jets to access petroleum and natural gas reserves that were not previously accessible by conventional drilling methods. The fracking liquid often includes chemicals found in products such as household cleaners, detergents and disinfectants, to dissolve the minerals surrounding the natural gas deposits. The high pressure and the toxic components of the fracking wastewater can lead to serious environmental damage.

Increase in Earthquakes Tied to Fracking Wastewater

The Science study, conducted by researchers from Cornell University, found that fracking wastewater injected into disposal sites built up the fluid pressure below ground level. In Oklahoma County, a location with both a minor fault line and a fracking wastewater disposal site, the study found only six measurable earthquakes from 2000 to 2008. In 2009, when oil companies began fracking operations, the site recorded 31 earthquakes. From January 2010 to April 2011, more than 800 minor quakes were recorded at the site.

Fracking Wastewater and Seismic Swarms

The study also found that the disposal of fracking wastewater led to “seismic swarms”, in which several small-magnitude earthquakes occurred one after the other. From 2008 to 2013, Oklahoma accounted for 45 percent of the earthquakes measuring at least 3.0 on the Richter scale in the central and eastern U.S., four times more than any other state in the region. Related data from the U.S. Geological Survey showed a seismic swarm of 183 earthquakes that measured at least a 3.0 on the Richter scale from October 2013 to April 14, 2014, an average of nearly one such quake per day.

Fracking Wastewater Earthquakes Affect Entire Region

The effects of the quakes attributed to fracking wastewater disposal sites are not limited strictly to those sites, or even solely to Oklahoma. The study found that the center of the quakes typically occur up to ten miles away from the disposal sites. As the pressure from the fracking wastewater builds, the quakes release that pressure in other areas. While no major population centers have reported any damage, one of the major fracking wastewater disposal sites is near the town of Jones, less than 20 miles from Oklahoma City.

Source: Washington Post

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