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USGS: Fracking Waste Water Blamed For Earthquakes

April 29th, 2015

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey cited the disposal of fracking waste water as a contributing factor in a number of recent earthquakes. The agency generated new earthquake hazard maps. These maps included 17 new earthquake “hot spots” with nearby fracking waste water disposal sites. Many of these sites include states that previously had little to no history of earthquakes, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio and New Mexico.

How Fracking Waste Water Is Created

The hydraulic fracturing process, better known as “fracking”, involves the injection of water, sand and various chemicals into shale deposits that hold oil and natural gas deposits. The high pressure fluid injection breaks up the shale and allows drillers to access the deposits. The fluids left over from this process make up the fracking waste water. Drillers will often inject the fracking waste water into underground wells to prevent contamination of the local environment.

Maps Tie Fracking Waste Water to Quakes

The new USGS map shows the increase in earthquakes around the central U.S. where fracking activities have occurred. While previous earthquake maps did not include quakes induced by human activities, the new map shows a close correlation between the rising number of earthquakes and the locations of fracking waste water wells. Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Project, told reporters that these quakes were “primarily triggered by the disposal of wastewater into deep wells.”

Fracking Waste Water Cited in OK Quakes

A related report from the Oklahoma Geological Survey found that the state’s earthquake rate was 600 times higher than it was prior to the drilling of the fracking waste water wells. The study also found that, in 2014, the state had a higher number of earthquakes that measured at least a 3.0 on the Richter scale than California did in the same time period. Austin Holland, head seismologist for the Oklahoma Geological Survey, told the news media that he and his team of researchers “suspect the vast majority of these earthquakes” originate from fracking waste water wells.

Dangers from Fracking Waste Water Quakes

As these quakes grow stronger and occur more frequently, federal and state agencies are continuing their studies into the correlation between fracking waste water and earthquakes. The Oklahoma study also showed that drillers injected more than 1.1 billion barrels of fracking waste water into underground wells across the state in 2013. One injection well in Oklahoma was believed to have caused a 2011 tremor that measured 5.6 on the Richter scale. The USGS announced that it would monitor such quakes and update their maps on an annual basis.

Source: Washington Post

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