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Earth Science News Technology

Did Fracking Cause Recent Oklahoma Earthquakes? 288

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Oklahoma is typically seismically stable, with about 50 small quakes a year — but in 2009, that number jumped up to more than 1,000 and on November 5 a 5.6-magnitude tremor rattled Oklahoma — one of the strongest to ever hit the state — leading scientists to wonder if the increasingly common use of fracking, the controversial practice of blasting underground rock formations with high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals to extract natural gas, may have put stress on fault lines. Human intervention has caused earthquakes before with one 'textbook case' occurring in 1967 in India, says Peter Fairley at IEEE Spectrum, when the reservoir behind the hydroelectric Koyna Dam was filled up. The added water 'unleashed a magnitude 6.3 quake' by placing stress 'on a previously unknown fault, killing 180 people and leaving thousands homeless.' Last week's earthquakes and aftershocks are centered in rural Lincoln County, in an area about 30 miles east of Oklahoma City and there are 181 injection wells In Lincoln County. But a recent study by Austin Holland, a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, says that it's possible that hydraulic fracking caused a series of small earthquakes, peaking at 2.8, in an area south of Oklahoma City but doesn't believe fracking caused the big Nov. 5, 6 and 8 earthquakes comparing a man-made earthquake to a mosquito bite. 'It's really quite inconsequential,' says Holland."
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Did Fracking Cause Recent Oklahoma Earthquakes?

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  • Statistics Please! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @03:59PM (#38051604)

    Instead of an endless stream of anecdotes can someone please do some statistics. Number of quakes within X miles of all fracking sites since fracking began versus number of quakes within X miles of all fracking sites in the years before fracking began. I'm sure it won't be pleasant to gather all the numbers, but there are dozens of places where fracking is being used, I can't imagine we don't have enough data by now to discover if there are some basic trends or not.

  • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:03PM (#38051646)
    That makes about as much sense as snorting a bunch of coke to determine whether you might have latent heart problems.
  • Re:dumbass (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:04PM (#38051664)

    If you get 181 mosquito bites in the same 1-square inch of skin, what do you think will happen?

    That rebuttal would make sense if he had said that each injection well equated to a mosquito bite. He didn't.

  • Re:More Data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SgtChaireBourne ( 457691 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:09PM (#38051716) Homepage
    While we're at it, let's have more data about which chemicals are being injected. They will eventually turn up in the water table through Murphy's law.
  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:13PM (#38051796)

    Actually, it does. Snorting coke didn't cause the heart condition. If I have a latent heart problem, it's in my interest to find out when I'm young and healthy so I can survive the first event. Then I can manage the condition to live a long life rather than dropping dead at 46 years old.

    I think "exercise" is more analogous than "snorting coke", but whatever...

  • by Mister Whirly ( 964219 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:20PM (#38051872) Homepage
    Actually, a real Battlestar Galactica fan knows Starbuck was a cocky male, not a hot female. You must be speaking of the remake.
  • Re:Probably. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:22PM (#38051904)

    I guess I'm not sure how anyone is ruling out the possibility of a cumulative effect from the minor (2.8 and under) earthquakes, which we are being told can be caused by fracking, putting stress on the fault line. Is that really not possible?

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:49PM (#38052204)

    The Butterfly Effect is described in terms of weather systems, where it's total bullshit.

    The "Butterfly Effect" is simply that even minute changes in a chaotic system, such as the weather, can result in large changes far enough down the road. Saying it can't matter is incorrect.

    As one of the AC's mentioned, you're speaking of some sort of "snowball effect".

    Any seismologist who discounts this possibility is suspect.

    I imagine we'll have to measure geological properties such as stress and strain on a newly developed fracking field to see how things change. It might be a bit costly to do, but capital layout is probably not that significant.

  • by tacokill ( 531275 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:10PM (#38052440)
    Agreed. Bakken Shale is very exciting and that area of the world is a perfect "test bed" for this hypothesis. The "interference" is negligible so a good set of data could be generated fairly easily -- and it would have meaning.

    Sidenote: North Dakota is printing more millionaires (by count) than anywhere else in the world right now. Yes, including China.
  • Re:Probably. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Matheus ( 586080 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:12PM (#38052458) Homepage

    It seems a lot of people aren't RTF(ull)A...

    The only scientist to say what the summary indicates has said that Frakking wasn't the cause of the *Big earthquake they had. He even admits it was possibly at fault for the many small earthquakes that have plagued the area in the past couple years. Also: most of the scientists who are investigating the big earthquake (as well as the small ones) are pointing more to the high pressure injection well process that is used to dispose of the waste fluids from frakking than the frakking itself. They have seen this process be responsible for large tremors in the past and so are investigating the possibility here. Note: They have not claimed fault yet. They are in the middle of what could be a very long (years) investigation as to the true cause of the tremors. They have only mentioned that the severe increase in small tremors and this extremely rare large tremor may be the result of the recent increase/presence of frakking and injection well activity near the faults.

    There is also scientific evidence that the fracking itself causes earthquakes, but nothing of the size of what happened in Oklahoma last weekend. A recent study by seismologist Austin Holland, a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, said that it’s possible that hydraulic fracking caused a series of small earthquakes, peaking at 2.8, in an area south of Oklahoma City earlier this year. When lots of liquid is injected into the ground it changes the stress and pressure in a place that probably already was a fault, Holland said. It’s similar to injecting water between two adjacent bricks, it allows them to slide more easily and "the water under pressure is helping push the bricks apart ever so slightly," Holland said.
    But Holland doesn’t believe fracking caused the big Nov. 5, 6 and 8 earthquakes. He compared a man-made earthquake to a mosquito bite.

    Bad Summary on both the /. side and the original article. The real information is so much more interesting.

  • Re:Probably. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:39PM (#38052836)

    What is "Fracking"? Well, it's the tunneling down in to the ground to extract natural gas. Tunneling leaves a hole, so if Fracking did not cause the earth quake, then the tunnels should be still there?

    1) That's not what fracking is.

    2) Even it it were, "if the earthquake were not caused by fracking, all natural gas wells would still be in place undamaged" does not logically follow. Nor does the converse, by the by.

"We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement." -- Richard J. Daley