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Oklahoma's Earthquakes Linked To Fracking 154

Posted by Soulskill
from the evil-masterminds-should-invest-in-natural-gas dept.
An anonymous reader writes Oklahoma has already experienced about 240 minor earthquakes this year, roughly double the rate at which California has had them. A recent study (abstract) has now tied those earthquakes to fracking. From the article: "Fracking itself doesn't seem to be causing many earthquakes at all. However, after the well is fracked, all that wastewater needs to be pumped back out and disposed of somewhere. Since it's often laced with chemicals and difficult to treat, companies will often pump the wastewater back underground into separate disposal wells. Wastewater injection comes with a catch, however: The process both pushes the crust in the region downward and increases pressure in cracks along the faults. That makes the faults more prone to slippages and earthquakes. ... More specifically, the researchers concluded that 89 wells were likely responsible for most of the seismic activity. And just four wells located southeast of Oklahoma City were likely responsible for about one-fifth of seismic activity in the state between 2008 and 2013."
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Oklahoma's Earthquakes Linked To Fracking

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps companies that do fracking should be regulated to treat wastewater like nuclear waste and prevent them from dumping it back in. It would stop the earthquakes and save them from the impending lawsuits that would follow. a Win Win aside from the cost of storage which should be less than a class action. Also who's to say it wouldn't be easier to treat the water a couple of decades from now to the point where it could then be poured out.

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @09:48AM (#47387985)
    Apparently, estimates of the distance that the wastewater travels from the SWD were off by nearly an order of magnitude.
    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Now add in those earthquakes and basically the completely fracturing of the formations that waste water was injected into and well, those estimates just reflect the intent of those estimates, sheer and utter bullshit to justifying the cheapest possible method of dumping that water, short of just dumping it straight into the nearest river or stream.

  • by Trepidity (597) <.delirium-slashdot. .at. .hackish.org.> on Saturday July 05, 2014 @09:48AM (#47387987)

    The weakest part of the whole fracking operation is really sloppy treatment of the wastewater. There have been large spills [pennlive.com] in some places [capebretonpost.com], and the disposal is often questionable (as seen here). The fracking process itself gets the most scientific scrutiny, because it's what's technically new about fracking, but good ol' wastewater handling is a mess, just as it was in the mining days.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They could (and can) clean and recycle the water. Oil companies are very skilled at water purification - having needed to separate oil from water from steam, or detergent, injection processes. It is more expensive - so they won't do it unless water is scarce or regulation requires it.

    • It's all by design. Ever heard of 'externality'?

  • by Rei (128717) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @09:53AM (#47388003) Homepage

    Companies have been pumping water (usually wastewater or seawater) down wells since the start of the latter half of the 20th century, to restore pressure in oil reservoirs. So how is this anything new and anything connected with fracking?

    Also, I don't unerstand why people make such a big deal out of these minor earthquakes which are general to small too feel even if you're paying attention for them. The amount of energy they're dealing with is only in the ballpark of these tiny quakes; compared to a large earthquake, it'd be like a mouse trying to push a boulder off a cliff. Either the boulder is ready to go or it's not, the mouse makes essentially no difference.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I don't think they make their point very well or it got taken out of context by the naysayers or something. But the point should be that fracking is helping to prevent the large, devastating quakes that would eventually happen by relieving some of the pressure in small, mostly unnoticeable quakes.
    • ...
      You know what 'fracking' refers to, right? Hydraulic fracturing?

      The rocks are being purposely stressed by high pressure liquids and crack under the pressure, releasing oil/gas that was previously trapped and irretrievable.

      So what this has to do with fracking is that they thought that just pumping fluid back in would hold things up, but clearly that's not true. The integrity of the final rock/fluid combination is inferior to the original. Old wells were like sticking a straw in a drink and sucking it up.

      • by kick6 (1081615) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @11:29AM (#47388365) Homepage

        So what this has to do with fracking is that they thought that just pumping fluid back in would hold things up, but clearly that's not true.

        That's not at all how it works. The fluid exists to create hydraulic pressure. They put sand or tiny ceramic balls in the water to fill the voids created by the fractures to "hold things up."

        This article relates to what they do with all the water after it returns to surface. They go find another well that doesn't produce anymore (or drill a new one into a non-producing zone) and pump the water in. HOWEVER, salt water disposal (SWD) is an operation that has been going on for decades. It's not new or unique to fracturing in the slightest making this article just more incorrect bullshit, and your post only adds to that. Please stop posting if you don't know what you're talking about as this only adds to the incorrect info that surrounds this issue.

        • So what this has to do with fracking is that they thought that just pumping fluid back in would hold things up, but clearly that's not true.

          That's not at all how it works. The fluid exists to create hydraulic pressure. They put sand or tiny ceramic balls in the water to fill the voids created by the fractures to "hold things up."

          ......

          And the interesting part is that there are quakes and there are QUAKES.

          Not just energy but location. The serious risk of quakes involves some darn
          deep structures. Deeper than any well and with vastly greater risk to
          life and property.

          Hydraulic fracturing and pumping waste to include CO2 into deep wells
          can be expected to generate measurable seismic events. Some might
          be felt without instruments.

          Recall the coal fire and collapse in Utah generated a 3.9 on the Richter scale.
          http://www.seis.utah.edu/Repor. [utah.edu]

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You don't understand how it works. After the high-pressure injection of fluids for the hydraultic fracturing, they introduce sand (propant) to hold the cracks open, and then they release the fluid pressures. So it doesn't stay pressurized. It's just the opposite, because the next stage is to pump out the hydrocarbons.

        What the article describes is something else: waste-water disposal. And while hydraulic fracturing does produce a lot of waste water needing proper disposal, so do plenty of other industrie

    • by mewrei (1206850) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @10:26AM (#47388111)
      A majority of them are too small to be felt, but we have had 5.9's and 4.0's before. Even a 3.5 can easily be felt if the epicenter is close enough (of which, my house is only about 3-4 miles away from the epicenter of quite a few of them). The big deal is that it's starting to damage buildings. My house is developing a few cracks here and there, and some people are even getting serious enough as to having some foundational issues. When did it all start? When they started fracking. When did it stop? When they paused fracking for a while. When did it start up again? When they started fracking again. I know correlation does not equal causation but damn if that doesn't provide at least some necessitation to investigate.
      • by jythie (914043) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @10:36AM (#47388141)
        *nod* one of the issues is that buildings on the east coast are not built with earthquakes in mind like west coast ones, so it takes much smaller quakes to do economic damage. And once you start to see damage (and the economic impact of repairs) you get into the classic sore point of 3rd parties paying a price for industry profits, which pisses people off.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by kick6 (1081615)

          buildings on the east coast are not built with earthquakes in mind like west coast ones

          TIL: Oklahoma City is on the east coast.

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          As someone jocularly points out, that should be more or less "east of the Continental Divide" (rather than "east coast") -- because the eastern half of the continent doesn't have big quakes often enough to remind them to build for quakes. They've long since forgotten the massive New Madrid quakes of the 19th century.

          And Oklahoma is not a seismic-free zone in the first place. Here's a handy seismic zones chart -- you may notice OK in fact has a region of routine moderate earthquake activity:

          http://www.ivi-in [ivi-intl.com]

      • by FuzzNugget (2840687) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @11:58AM (#47388511)

        Reproducibility is a key element in scientific research. I've think you've demonstrated a pretty strong case for it right there.

        Also: Occam's Razor. You didn't have earthquakes before and they started when the practice of crumbling the foundational geology beneath you. And this is happening in many places where they never previously experienced earthquakes. As if we even need a scientific study commissioned to determine this? The repeated, consistent anecdotal evidence is overwhelming proof enough on its own.

        • by Reziac (43301) *

          http://www.ivi-intl.com/pdfs/I... [ivi-intl.com]

          Oklahoma is NOT a quake-free region in the first place.

          Now if western North Dakota suddenly started having quakes (since per USGS records, ND has the lowest incidence of quakes of any U.S. state, and what quakes ND has are of the lowest average intensity of any state) ....then I'd listen.

      • A majority of them are too small to be felt, but we have had 5.9's and 4.0's before. .....
        The big deal is that it's starting to damage buildings. ......

        Historic building codes in OK are not seismic risk aware.
        Only recently have the codes in the hot spot around New Madrid
        been partly addressed. In Calif there is a major industry
        retrofitting buildings. It is costly and it is being driven by
        an industry that profits from it. It is a good thing to reinforce
        buildings, it is less good when the invoice arrives.

        The cost of seismic retrofit in the Midwest could bankrupt
        many states... and for the same reason tornado shelters
        are not part of all schools, office

      • by Megane (129182)

        My house is developing a few cracks here and there, and some people are even getting serious enough as to having some foundational issues.

        This also happens in central Texas, where there aren't baby earthquakes happening. It's caused by ground settling under a slab foundation due to drought, and then again from the reverse when the drought ends. It's also the reason you don't have basements in Oklahoma or most of Texas, because eventually the foundations would just get floated out of the ground. Just because baby earthquakes are happening at the same time as cracks in the walls doesn't imply cause.

        • by mewrei (1206850)
          If it were a compressive load on my slab then yes, but this is shearing damage.
          • by Megane (129182)
            Not sure what you mean by that, but I've seen diagonal cracks in sheetrock before due to slab shifting.
            • by mewrei (1206850)
              Shearing load results in the slab foundation separating from the slab in a non-uniform matter (which is a very, very bad thing) while the dimensions of both the slab and house remaining constant. You can also get cracks inside the house that are the result of one portion of the house moving in a different direction, than the rest (i.e. more shear load).
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's the ground water pollution [scientificamerican.com], for one.

      For the other, this is completely different than the old days of shooting sea water or many times they used steam; so comparing fracking to old ways of getting oil is irrelevant.

      Thridly, there are quite a few issues that are coming to light but the industry - like all induestries - is stone walling and as far as I am concerned, lieing until proven otherwise because ALL businesses will lie through their teeth to protect profits.

      Money rules. Human wellbeing drools - in

      • by rally2xs (1093023)

        The "ground water contamination" is, if you look at the article, from METHANE, where some water wells have had methane for decades. Its not a big deal, you can drink water with methane in it, and you only need a simple construction to vent off the dissolved gas so that it doesn't accumulate in the house and blow something up.

        Methane in drinking water occurs naturally, and as a result of coal mining operations, and sometimes any sort of drilling, with or without fracking. The whole thing is yet another "Le

        • My Dad's water well had methane, not the "chemical analysis report" kind of methane but the water fizzed like soda pop kind of methane. There were no oil or gas well, nor were there any coal mines, just an oil seep down by the river. We pretty much avoided glass water glasses because pressure surges from the methane would knock the glass out of our hands.

    • Companies have been pumping water (usually wastewater or seawater) down wells since the start of the latter half of the 20th century, to restore pressure in oil reservoirs. So how is this anything new and anything connected with fracking?

      Also, I don't unerstand why people make such a big deal out of these minor earthquakes which are general to small too feel even if you're paying attention for them. The amount of energy they're dealing with is only in the ballpark of these tiny quakes; compared to a large earthquake, it'd be like a mouse trying to push a boulder off a cliff. Either the boulder is ready to go or it's not, the mouse makes essentially no difference.

      The difference is where the fluid is going. In a normal oil well, the introduce pressurize fluids to increase pressure and push the oil up the well. They're introducing fluid to a geological area that's had fluid in it for millions of years. There's no real change there, no reason for the earth to shift.

      What this study shows is that after they are done fracking they need to dispose of their fluids so they're digging a NEW well and pumping the fluid down to an area that's been dry for millions of years. They

    • It doesn't take much of a quake to cause a lot of harm to a home. What do you do when a foundation or a slab cracks? How about water pipes that start leaking at the joints or a lovely crack in a ceiling. This is a classic case of industry not being able to contain negative effects upon others and is probably actionable. Loss of peace of mind and loss of property value re enough to generate a huge law suit. Florida has already had one man swallowed alive in his bedroom by a sinkhole. Those sinkholes are
    • by ZosX (517789)

      Because doesn't fracking fracture the strata and thus make the ground more unstable? Correct me if I'm wrong here. I don't know the magnitude, but it doesn't sound like a good thing to do overall. The whole thing is a bad idea period. How about just ending our addiction to oil? Nope. Can't do that while there is ground to rape and destroy so some cartel can stay in power for a few more years.

    • The difference today is the pressure used. The term itself 'fracking' is hydraulic fracturing of the gaseous rock. It takes an enormous amount of pressure to fracture rock. Also the slurry used to frack is different then just using plain old seawater. It contains quite a few known cancer causing agents. The slurry is patented and produced by the company Halliburton. You know - the company Dick Cheney was President of... The same Dick Cheney to pushed through the energy bill exempting energy company fro
  • How long would it take to regulate fracking? Hopefully it won't take forever to do that.
  • No accountability (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 05, 2014 @09:59AM (#47388033)

    It's really interesting to see the lengths that fracking companies put between themselves and wastewater, basically outsourcing the wastewater manage process to entirely separate companies explicitly for the purpose of no longer being responsible for the wastewater. They've done this pretty much from the start, too.

    At the beginning it was most likely to give themselves a buffer when the environmental problems or health problems arose due to all those unclassified chemicals of dubious safety used in fracking that remain in the wastewater. Now it may provide them another buffer when it comes time to blame a party for the cause of these earthquakes.

    Much like the GMO argument, it is the strange and suspicious actions of the companies that raises concerns rather than what they are doing. I'm sure more ethical businesses could frack and dispose of wastewater safely; none do. Just as I'm sure Monsanto could make GMO products without such bizarre legal actions that leverage their product to punish farmers.

    People wouldn't bat an eye if the fracking or GMO industry had transparency, honesty, and responsibility rather than endless misdirection and threats.

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      It's really interesting to see the lengths that fracking companies put between themselves and wastewater, basically outsourcing the wastewater manage process to entirely separate companies explicitly for the purpose of no longer being responsible for the wastewater. They've done this pretty much from the start, too.

      Actually the reason for that is not as nefarious as you think, and its the same reason for outsourcing construction, operation, commissioning, maintenance and many of the other activities various companies outsource.

      The idea is simple. The companies make their money by getting shit out of the ground and selling it. Their value lies in the exploration rights and their proven reserves. Everything else is technical details. Most upstream oil companies are staffed with geophysicists, geologists, and anyone capa

  • A good thing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arielCo (995647) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @10:07AM (#47388057)

    That makes the faults more prone to slippages and earthquakes.

    If my meager understanding of earthquakes is correct, these small slippages release in small bits the tectonic stress that could otherwise build up until a bigger quake happens. So, frack away?

    • by bongey (974911)

      Mod parent up. NOVA had a earthquake eposide. The more the plates stick, the more energy builds up and then leads to a major quake. The actually can calculate the amount of energy that is current stored because of the sticking.
      So frack away.

    • by OnTheEdge (136784)
      I've heard this conjecture before, and it certainly seems to make sense. Can anyone point to any evidence that this might be true?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not in this case. These earthquakes are occurring on previously quiescent faults. The faults don't have tectonic stress accumulating (or if they do, the accumulation is very slow) because they aren't on plate boundaries or in other geologically active areas.

      The energy that's being released in these earthquakes has been in these rocks for millions of years. It would never have been released at all, if it weren't for the fracking.

    • The stress is just being transferred to an adjacent fault. It doesn't magically disappear.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That makes the faults more prone to slippages and earthquakes.

      If my meager understanding of earthquakes is correct, these small slippages release in small bits the tectonic stress that could otherwise build up until a bigger quake happens. So, frack away?

      Well, that's why a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. The problem is that they are pumping wastewater back into the area they just fracked thinking they can use the same mediocre methods of disposal and stability management used in non-fracking well processes. What we are seeing is that the hydraulic fracturing used to release the oil and gas from inside pockets of shale that are trapped inside other geologic strata. If the fracturing only affected the shale there may not be so much issue, but the fractu

      • by arielCo (995647)

        So it's not really about faults accommodating plate displacement, but about new dynamics created by collapse in the fractured rock. And the statistics suggest that something is indeed changing. Are there any measurements of the strata backing up this?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Unfortunately, the oil companies probably have that data and seeing it might be impossible. Getting independent data would be prohibitively expensive and would require the permission of the land holder, in this case the oil company. And it's not new dynamics. The stresses were there but had eqilibrized over time, so yes, you do have pressure/stress/tension built up in the rock that the water can't replace once that structure within the strata has been compromised. Just like what happens when you disturb any

    • by sjames (1099)

      And build pressure upstream at the next sticking point so those people can have the big quake instead.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hi, exploration geophysicist here.

      Existing faults exist with various levels of stress. Some of them are sitting on a hair trigger to release massive amounts of energy. Maybe it naturally would have been another 50000 years before it would go off. And the hair trigger can be indirectly disturbed by a smaller nearby quake.

      Smaller quakes can relieve pressure in one place but this then puts more pressure in another place further down the line, the ground is all connected. That's what happened in Haiti, the faul

      • I thought all quakes dissipated energy reducing the total stress, but this may still be true while increasing concentration elsewhere as you suggest. Another reply to my comment says that the fractured layer isn't as strong as before, resulting in new shifts and accomodation in faults that were stable. What do you think?

  • 89 wells out of the thousands accounted for most of the miniquakes. Four wells accounted for 20% of all seismic activity. Such uneven distribution obeys the power rule. 80% of income earned by 20% of workers, 80% of crime committed by 20% of criminals, 80% of academic papers authored by 20% of the authors etc.

    But it would be impossible to hold the owners of these four wells accountable for anything. There are "experts" available for hire whose specialization is to muddy the waters and raise enough reasona

  • A small problem... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cirby (2599) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @10:53AM (#47388211)

    They're nice enough to put their numbers and charts online. Which is great. https://cornell.app.box.com/okquakes/1/2137038978/18684174734/1

    Unfortunately, their own charts show a bit of a problem. Specifically Figure S1.

    The increase in earthquakes over time is definite. And it's NOT generally where the actual injection wells are. Sure, there's a few quakes recorded in the middle of the injection well area, but they're not consistent, and they don't map with time.

    The earthquakes do map well with one thing, though: they seem to swarm around active seismic stations that aren't near fracking disposal wells. Which seems to either show that seismometers create earthquakes, or that they have some instrumentation issues.

    • by twistedcubic (577194) on Saturday July 05, 2014 @11:42AM (#47388439)
      The increase in earthquakes over time is definite. And it's NOT generally where the actual injection wells are.

      If you look at the charts again, you'll notice the earthquakes occur generally near the fault line, which is not surprising, is it? And the stations are near the fault line too, which probably is a good idea, don't you think?
      • by cirby (2599)

        The small fault that seems to be generating most of the seismic activity in the study is not only quite a few miles away, it's not connected to any of the major faults in the area - and there's a long, major fault (Nemaha Fault) in between the injection wells and the earthquake zone. (Figure S9 shows this dramatically)

        It gets better. According to the notes for Figure S3, water is extracted on the west side of the Nemaha Fault and re-injected on the east side. Which means that the earthquakes are increasing

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I dont get it. The average depth of oil/gas wells here in Oklahoma is approx 5,000 ft. The typical depth of earthquakes here in Oklahoma is approx 16,000 ft. I'm not seeing a connection between the two. But there is a geographical correlation and here's why.
    When I worked for a large oil exploration company here in Oklahoma, I wrote software to search for "fault zones" because areas where the formations are broken up due to tectonic activity is also an attractive place to explore for and produce oil, in oth

    • That's my understanding, too. Small earthquakes can occur continually in the groundwater zone but major earthquakes, i.e. fault slippage, is far deeper and thus not subject to any easing of the tension from either fracking or injecting waste water.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MightyMartian (840721)

      Oil company employee finds no problem with oil extraction. News at 11.

    • I dont get it. The average depth of oil/gas wells here in Oklahoma is approx 5,000 ft. The typical depth of earthquakes here in Oklahoma is approx 16,000 ft. I'm not seeing a connection between the two.

      First: You're looking at the wrong wells. What's the depth of the injection wells?

      Second: The depth of the well doesn't particularly matter, as long as it connects the water to a fault system. The water spreads out through the fault, turning it into a hydraulic jack the size of a small eastern state or so

  • Just wait.. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    One of these days, Fracking is going to cause an earthquake so large that it is going to cause Oklahoma to separate from the continental united states and drift off to sea.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The ignorance of the science of geology here is astounding. Many of you don't understand the difference between hydraulic fracturing and deep waste injection. You don't understand the mechanisms of earthquakes, You don't understand rheology (look it up). You probably think that Zorin's plan in a "View to a Kill" was feasible.

  • Lies! (Score:1, Informative)

    by p51d007 (656414)
    Yeah right! I'm not a geologist, but anyone with 1/2 a brain knows that earthquakes are caused by the plates in the earth shifting. Fracking doesn't drill down anywhere close to the plates.
  • 1. Good to relieve pressure in these mostly tiny, barely noticeable quakes
    2. We need fossil fuel, that's reality for now
    3. It's just Oklahoma for fuck's sake, so who gives a shit?

  • Probably the most savage quake ever to occur in the US was in Missouri before many European types were in that state. Oklahoma is a bit close and I am wondering if we are about to see a super quake in that region again. The consequences would be awful. Native Americans who occupied tents or other lite weight shelters did not have bricks and concrete falling on them. modern buildings would have no chance in that severe a quake.
  • First of all, injection wells are not "fracking" (which is properly spelled fracing) and injection wells used for disposal of wastewater are not injecting only water from hydraulic fracturing. There are thousands of wells drilled with traditional vertical drilling methods in Oklahoma that produce water. There are wells that produce 90% water and 10% oil for most of the life of the well and this is common in some formations in Oklahoma (e.g. Mississippi Lime). That water has to be disposed of because it ha

  • California is listed as having over 10,000 earthquakes a year. This figure is more than a tad shy of equaling that (by over 40 times, let alone out numbering it by a factor of two. To say it's double is rediculous.: To quote the USGS: "Each year the southern California area has about 10,000 earthquakes. ... If there is a large earthquake, however, the aftershock sequence will produce many more earthquakes of all magnitudes for many months." http://earthquake.usgs.gov/lea... [usgs.gov] "

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