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Minor Quakes In the UK Likely Caused By Fracking 318

Posted by Soulskill
from the bsg-fans-confused dept.
Stirling Newberry writes "Non-conventional extraction of hydrocarbons is the next wave of production, including natural gas and oil – at least according to its advocates. One of the most controversial of the technologies being used is hydraulic fracture drilling, or 'fracking.' Energy companies have been gobbling up Google ad words to push the view that the technology is 'proven' and 'safe,' while stories about the damage continue to surface. Adding to the debate are two small tremors in the UK — below 3.0, so very small – that were quite likely the result of fracking there. Because the drilling cracks were shallow, this raises concerns that deeper cracks near more geologically active areas might lead to quakes that could cause serious damage."
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Minor Quakes In the UK Likely Caused By Fracking

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  • "So, my love, did the Earth move for you as well?"
    "Frack yeah!"

    However, if fracking would have caused a minor quake anywhere, I would have thought it would have been in the US, because of the rampant obesity. Maybe it's all in the rhythm.
    • by EdZ (755139)
      Next time you watch a BBC report on Fracking, watch the reporters face closely at the end of the segment. I've yet to see anyone not look like they're about to break into a fit of giggles once the cameras turn off.
  • if you're rich enough to live far away from it. Frankly I don't see the problem.
    • by ackthpt (218170)

      if you're rich enough to live far away from it. Frankly I don't see the problem.

      Sure. But what if your fine bungalow happens to be below a dam, which collapses because extraction of petroleum from beneath it changes the contour of the Earth, just enough to weaken the structure?

      Stuff happens to the rich, too.

  • Groundwater (Score:5, Informative)

    by vossman77 (300689) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:03AM (#37934888) Homepage

    Not to mention its potential impact on local groundwater:

    http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/index.cfm [epa.gov]

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by LehiNephi (695428)
      There's a difference between "potential" and "actual". IIRC (and please correct me if I'm wrong), there has yet to be a case where fracking has actually been shown to have impacted groundwater, despite the claims of the local population. This is likely because the oil/gas companies do lots of environmental studies before they even start drilling--they don't just start punching holes in the ground willy-nilly.
      • Re:Groundwater (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Kryptonian Jor-El (970056) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:14AM (#37935046)
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRZ4LQSonXA [youtube.com] This isn't what I had in mind when I asked for 'firewater'
      • Re:Groundwater (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:17AM (#37935122)

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/09/fracking-methane-flammable-drinking-water-study_n_859677.html

      • Re:Groundwater (Score:5, Interesting)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:28AM (#37935320)

        My brother in law works on a rig. Last month his crew got a hammerbit stuck in the hole. They pumped hundreds of barrels of "soap" and water into the hole to try to free it. This well was communicating with others which started to leak this fluid. So now you have gas wells that are 50 years old pumping lubricating fluid instead of gas. Since that is another company, they will likely get sued. Had it been a water well they homeowner might not have the resources to do that. They ended up using explosives to free the pipe but they lost the bit and a few collars. The rig started to sink due to the vast amount of fluid pumped into the ground. How much environmental study was involved in all that?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Of course, there are parts of the world where people routinely fire automatic weapons into the sky in celebration. Those bullets all have to land somewhere and there's a potential for that somewhere to be a kid's head. Does it actually happen often? I'll be honest, I don't know, it's not relevant to my point. The point I'm making is that, until one of those bullets falls into one of their own kids' skulls, the guys firing the guns don't care about the potential for it to happen, just like you don't seem to

  • by koan (80826) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:03AM (#37934894)

    Even with a major earthquake occurring because of "fracking" it's a non-issue compared to the damage done to the water table by the chemicals used in the process, toxic for centuries afterwards.

    • So, you're a global quaking denier?

    • by sycodon (149926) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:49AM (#37935682)

      Gas reserves are far below water tables in complete different strata...five thousand to 20,000 feet, far , far deeper than any aquifer.

      But you keep drinking that Kool Aid.

      • by X0563511 (793323) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:59AM (#37935830) Homepage Journal

        Yea, 'cause you don't have to drill through that first, and there's no chance that raising the pressure below could force things just under the water table up into it.

        It might not be as bad as 'the sky is falling' folks claim, but it isn't good either.

        • by berashith (222128)

          seriously.. it isnt like the oil under the gulf of mexico has ever polluted the water there . Differences in depth cannot be defeated by pressure.

      • by Jeng (926980)

        Then please explain this.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U01EK76Sy4A [youtube.com]

      • by ackthpt (218170)

        Gas reserves are far below water tables in complete different strata...five thousand to 20,000 feet, far , far deeper than any aquifer.

        But you keep drinking that Kool Aid.

        We keep being assured the water is safe, despite what our noses keep telling us.

      • by Shompol (1690084)

        Gas reserves are far below water tables in complete different strata...five thousand to 20,000 feet, far , far deeper than any aquifer.

        Please explain this, then http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEtgvwllNpg [youtube.com]

      • by microbox (704317)

        I asked Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, the D. C. Baum Professor of Engineering at Cornell University, whose research for more than 30 years has involved structural mechanics, finite element methods, and fracture mechanics: "Can drilling and/or hydraulic fracturing liberate biogenic natural gas into a fresh water aquifer?"

        His reply: "Yes, definitely. The drilling process itself can induce migration of biogenic gas by disturbance of previously blocked migration paths through joint sets or faults, or by puncturing pressurized biogenic gas pockets and allowing migration through an as-yet un-cemented annulus, or though a faulty cement job. The hydraulic fracturing process is less likely to cause migration of biogenic gas; however, the cumulative effect of many, closely spaced, relatively shallow laterals, each fracked (and possibly re-fracked) numerous times, could very well create rock mass disturbances that could, as noted above, open previously blocked migration paths through joint sets or faults."

        You no better then that right? Because you heard something from a natural gas public relations firm that agrees with your political ideas.

  • Interesting idea: (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GameboyRMH (1153867)

    What about doing something like fracking, except using non-toxic chemicals, for the purpose of intentionally causing minor earthquakes to release the stress that would otherwise lead to a big one? I bet many Pacific Rim countries would be interested in gradually defusing major earthquakes...

    • I was thinking the same thing. I think the main problem with this would be the legal issues. Unlike a controlled burn or avalanche control work, it would be very hard to predict the duration, magnitude and scale of the quakes being released. Just releasing the earthquake in the first place would be hard, and if you finally score and manage to release a lot of tectonic pressure, you wouldn't want to be the one that everyone could point to as the source of the resulting damage.

      Project Stormfury [wikipedia.org] ran into th

    • Whilst those earthquakes were relatively small in a global sense, they aren't that small for a country that is not straddling any major fault lines. If I was living somewhere near the San Andreas fault, I probably wouldn't want someone fracking anywhere near by. A small earthquake there, would probably be a few orders of magnitude larger than the largest earth quakes we can get here in the UK.
    • I think the problem with this is that earthquakes are normally caused by sudden movement of plates. Fracking doesn't do anything to relieve that pressure. All it will do is create more minor earthquakes.
    • It's been theorized and even tried. (Although that's really an entirely different process. Fracking causes earthquakes by shifting the ground. What you are talking about is trying to let the ground shift in a more controlled manner.)

      The problem is you are just making it easier for the stress to be released. That doesn't guarantee smaller earthquakes as a result...

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        Well, yes it does. For the quake to occur naturally, more energy will need to be applied in order to overcome the static friction. If you lower the static friction threshold, the plates act without adding the additional energy that more time and tectonic activity would build on behind it.

        The problem is that the energy already there to be released might already be bad news. It's still better news than waiting, though.

  • The energy for the earthquake is already there, so if anything, fracking *prevents* large earthquakes.

    However, if you're killed by a 5.x quake that wouldn't have released a 9.x until 100 years after your normal lifespan, Do you care?
    • I never thought of England as an earthquake zone. Also my understanding is that fracking causes earthquakes by collapse of underground layers whereas normal earthquakes as caused by sudden movements of tectonic plates. Not exactly the same thing.
      • by X0563511 (793323)

        While that happens (subsidence), this is not what we are thinking of. Consider the fluid being injected to be WD-40. You've got a sticky joint that won't move without adding a lot more pressure.

        You can add more pressure (leave it be and let it release when it would without interference) or you can lube it up and release the tension that's in it now.

        Both might suck, but you can argue that the latter sucks less than the former (overall) even though the other might not apply within a geologically significant a

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      However, if you're killed by a 5.x quake that wouldn't have released a 9.x until 100 years after your normal lifespan, Do you care?

      How could you care? You're dead!

    • I'm clueless in these matters but trying to read up on it mostly lands me on activist sites that extoll the evils that is inherent to fracking and sources that don't really go into detail as to what causes the earthquakes, etc.

      So my basic question would be, in relationship to your statement, whether fracking condenses the release of that potential energy.

      I.e. if the energy is in the shale, does it actually build up to one big quake, or does it continually get released in a multitude of earthquakes of magnit

    • by digitig (1056110)

      However, if you're killed by a 5.x quake that wouldn't have released a 9.x until 100 years after your normal lifespan, Do you care?

      Not any more.

    • by trout007 (975317)

      You are right. The headline should say it triggered an earthquake not caused.

      I've suggested lubricating fault lines as a means to eliminate earthquakes. I am a mechanical engineer and earthquakes are a variation of a type of movement known as stick slip. It happens where you have seals like pistons. You have a static coefficient of friction much higher than the dynamic. So force and energy is stored up in your system trying to overcome the static friction. Once it starts moving the system lurches rapidly r

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        You are right. The headline should say it triggered an earthquake not caused.

        I've suggested lubricating fault lines as a means to eliminate earthquakes. I am a mechanical engineer and earthquakes are a variation of a type of movement known as stick slip. It happens where you have seals like pistons. You have a static coefficient of friction much higher than the dynamic. So force and energy is stored up in your system trying to overcome the static friction. Once it starts moving the system lurches rapidly releasing the energy. They key to getting rid of it is reducing the friction. Better seals like Teflon can help as can lubrication in some applications.

        It seems to me that lubricating the fault could make the energy release much more quickly - instead of a "slow" grind between plates, you have a lubrication assisted quick slide, and perhaps even a greater energy release than if the plates have been allowed to slide naturally since there's less friction resisting the movement.

        So this may change the dynamic of the quake in such a way to make it much worse since the energy would be released over a shorter period of time making the quake more intense.

        Testing i

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Really Slashdot? You could not wait until at least peer review?

    "The report is now entering peer review. "We want it to subjected to maximum scrutiny; it's not in Cuadrilla's interest to discover a problem down the road," Smith says."

  • It is not a question of 'if' there will be quakes.. it is only a question of 'when' there will be quakes. Energy is continually building up in the ground and every once in awhile the stresses are too great. The potential increases over time.

    We manage potential in other areas, such as lighting forest fires and burning off brush before the potential problem grows too great.

    Couldn't it be said that fracking will, at worst, cause an impending quake to happen sooner and thus it will have less potential?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:08AM (#37934954)

    Oy. Both the EPA and GWPC have said that there is no proven link between fracking and contaminated groundwater. 99% of what is sent into the earth is plain, non-potable water. The other 1% is made up of various chemicals of varying toxicity, the most toxic two chemicals making up about 0.1% of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid sent down.

    The case correlating fracking to groundwater contamination is as strong as Jenny McCarthy's claims correlating vaccines to autism. /Geologist who works for a major oil company.

    • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld&gmail,com> on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:10AM (#37934992) Homepage
      /Geologist who works for a major oil company.

      So you're obviously a non-biased source.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        OP here. So the Environmental Protection Agency and Ground Water Protection Council are biased in favor of big oil? My comments are based on THEIR studies, not my own, not my employer's.

        Please, explain your brilliant reasoning or is it just a big government conspiracy?

        Amazing that the most ignorant comments get modded up. Group-think at its finest.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          No conspiracy, but normal regulatory capture. Happens with near every other government regulatory agency/

        • by nomadic (141991)
          So the Environmental Protection Agency

          Which is so unconcerned about fracking that they just released this month their plan to conduct an in-depth study of the effect of fracking on groundwater.

          Ground Water Protection Council

          Which is so unconcerned about fracking that they created a database to track chemicals used in hydrofracking at the individual well level.

          Amazing that the most ignorant comments get modded up. Group-think at its finest.

          "You should believe this because these groups believe i
      • by toastar (573882)
        <quote><i>/Geologist who works for a major oil company.</i>
        So you're obviously a non-biased source.</quote>

        So who am I to believe, The guy who spent 10 years getting his masters, or the guy who just spent 2 hours watching a movie?

        It really is basic Geology, Ask someone from the USGS if you really want an unbias source. Seriously give them a call.

        For example, The Marcellus Shale, ranges from a depth of 3000-7000 feet. The thing is Freshwater usually only goes down a few hundred feet.
    • by clickety6 (141178)

      the most toxic two chemicals making up about 0.1% of the hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid sent down.

      So, what you're actually telling us is that these companies are injecting thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals into the earth and the ground water. That's not so reassuring...

    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      You're an Anonymous Coward. Sign your name and the oil corp and we'll believe that you are who you say. BTW, it's more like hundreds of millions of gallons of fracking fluids. That's millions of gallons of toxic chemicals, even if your percentages are true. An actual geologist working for a major oil corp who isn't lying would have said millions.

      But even so, what does it matter that the EPA and the GWPC have been bribed and bullied by oil corps to lie to us about fracking safety?

      Oil corps have earned only d

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      What are these two most toxic chemicals?
      I ask because if they something like cadmium then 0.1% of 100,000 gallons would be 100 gallons more than enough to poison a great many people. I am not suggesting it is cadmium only that even such small quantities can be enough to poison thousands or millions of people if the substance is toxic enough.

      The EPA and GWPC are little more than mouth pieces for industry. If we at least made the ingredients of these fluids public knowledge I would be a lot more comfortable.

    • by microbox (704317)
      If fracking is so safe, why did the industry lobby for exemption from drinking water regulation? Because it's so safe we that we have nothing to worry about? And besides, the EPA head himself did the lobbying. Talk about regulatory capture.

      Some of your former teachers -- your former professors at universities -- are stating that they have concerns over fracking. I guess that is just a minor detail. Just believe what you want to believe so that you can think of yourself as a good person.
  • If I understand correctly, quakes are the result of releasing pressure that builds up along fault lines. Wouldn't releasing this pressure in small increments prevent it from being released all at once? Otherwise a quake is going to happen sooner or later anyway. Better to be 10 small quakes than 1 large quake, right?

    • by c (8461)

      Wouldn't releasing this pressure in small increments prevent it from being released all at once? Otherwise a quake is going to happen sooner or later anyway. Better to be 10 small quakes than 1 large quake, right?

      Probably. The trick is that we'd need to know the right places to set off our small quakes, and how big we'd need to make them. I like to think that if we actually had the kind of knowledge to do that stuff safely, we'd already be using it right now to accurately predict earthquakes.

      Uninformed geo-

    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      No, there's no science concluding that small quakes overall reduce large quakes, rather than add to stresses that make large quakes larger and/or more likely. Some science suggests maybe, but even there only on some fault systems, not necessarily on others.

      We are messing with major consequences that we don't understand. For short term gain, gambling against long term losses - that will be paid by someone who didn't make the short term profits. As usual.

  • Let's point out that the earthquakes were so small they can not be felt by man, are barely detectable, and these size quakes happen all the time naturally too.

    As for groundwater pollution- this has happened, albeit doesn't usually- and there are non-toxic equivalents to the toxic chemicals that are *sometimes* used. Fracking need not use toxic chemical.

    Natural Gas, whereas it is no "solar" or "wind farm", is overall much cleaner than oil or coal. (or at least can be if they regulate the chemicals used whe

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Indeed. The British government would rather than people freeze in the dark -- or send a ton of money to the Russians to buy their gas -- than risk some slight tremors that no-one but a few scientists will notice.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:25AM (#37935260) Homepage Journal

    It's surprising that this petrofuel corp is admitting anything at all. The truth will turn out to be even worse, as these energy corps always hide and lie as long as physically possible. They use the same PR corps that kept tobacco's death and destruction officially secret and off the liability lists for generations.

    Soon enough we'll hear about even more damage the drill babies know they're doing. And then eventually, if we don't stop this destructive profit extraction, we'll hear about all the other damage they insisted on ignoring. But of course then it will be too late to matter. Which is always the drill babies' main strategy.

    • by microbox (704317)

      But of course then it will be too late to matter. Which is always the drill babies' main strategy.

      Indeed, the power brokers will have walked away with the money, and we will be left to clean up the mess they made of our lives. It is a timeless formula.

  • First off I can't believe that drilling causes earthquakes. Earthquakes are caused by slippage during the course of tectonic plate movements. So saying that drilling "causes" earthquakes is silly.

    What I can believe is that it causes quakes to come earlier and smaller, by slightly lowering the stiction between the plates. Looked at this way, it would seem to be a benefit rather than an evil disaster-maker? I think most places would much prefer to have a handful of 4.0's instead of the occasional 6.5.

    Afai

  • Who is Italy going to press charges against for this one?
  • by Graham J - XVI (1076671) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @12:12PM (#37936012) Homepage Journal

    Millions of BSG fans are laughing at this headline :D

  • by pev (2186)

    In the UK, if you're a driver, you're compelled to have third party insurance in case you cause damage. If you're a professional you generally want to have professional indemnity for similar reasons. Shouldn't companies engaging in risky practices such as these be forced to have appropriate cover in case they cause a massive earthquake as a pre-requisite for doing so?

  • Non-conventional extraction of hydrocarbons is the next wave of production, including natural gas and oil – at least according to its advocates. One of the most controversial of the technologies being used is hydraulic fracture drilling,

    The entire post is nonsense. Fracturing has been used extensively for over sixty years. It's hardly new or "non-conventional". It only became controversial when the AlGore fanboys realized how much natural gas is available in this country.

    Water wells that are contaminated with natural gas are easy to find in many parts of the country, especially where coal is found close to the surface. I had an uncle in eastern Ohio who tried to drill a water well on his farm but hit gas instead; he capped it and used

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