Please create an account to participate in the Slashdot moderation system


Forgot your password?
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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Did Fracking Cause Recent Oklahoma Earthquakes?

Comments Filter:
  • by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:00PM (#38051608)

    Someone made a nice song. []

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:01PM (#38051616)

    What if it did? Earthquakes can't be avoided. The longer that seismic pressure builds, the bigger the quake. Relieving this pressure early by causing minor quakes should help avoid massive, deadly earthquakes in the future.

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

    by imamac ( 1083405 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:02PM (#38051638)
    Most of the news around here (Oklahoma) is saying probably not. The seismologists that have been on are saying that, while the earthquakes were shallow, they were still far too deep to be caused by fracking.
  • Butterfly Effect (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:04PM (#38051654) Journal

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

    But here, not so much. The ground under us is full of cracks that have stopped moving because they're caught on something. Break that something, and you unleash a quake. If the reason the crack can't produce enough force is because there's another, smaller thing they're caught on, too, then all you have to do is break that smaller thing to allow the bigger thing to feel enough stress to be broken.

    And so on.

    As I said, this is bullshit in the atmosphere, where violence is the result of concentration of energy from the movement of thousands or millions of cubic kilometers of atmosphere into a vortex in their midst, something a butterfly can have no bearing on. But underground these chains of critical stability are all over the place. Just look at the NEIC's map and see them letting go daily. And each time one lets go, it changes the criticality of another, or of another part of itself.

    Fracking certainly could be the causative factor in the initiation of a chain of releases that result in a larger release. The fact that there are smaller quakes means that of course they could be releasing the crack to bear on a major sticking point with more force than before, and certainly could lead to a larger quake.

    Any seismologist who discounts this possibility is suspect.

  • by G3ckoG33k ( 647276 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:08PM (#38051710) []

    As close i got get on short notice. I posted this two years ago IIRC

  • Petro Engineer's POV (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:11PM (#38051756)

    I am or was a petroleum engineer, and I can tell you that yes it's entirely possible for subsurface oil and gas operations to affect fault lines and cause seismic events like those described.

    With that being said, I think there is also a lot of FUD surrounding the practice of fracing. Fracing is not particularly new to the Oil and Gas industry, and there are a lot of Oil and Gas operations that cause environmental and seismic problems, not just fracing.

    I feel like people have sort of jumped on to this Fracing thing, because of the "Gasland" documentary. And now they have some "evil" practice to blame the Oil and Gas companies for, but in reality I think it is a little more complicated than that. We have found trillions of cubic feet of natural gas reserves that can be released through fracing, and this has a major implications for domestic energy production and the US economy.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:16PM (#38051834)

    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.

    That's not really going to tell you much - what you really need is historical seismic data. Generally speaking, you'd expect a lot of small seismic activity temporally centered around a larger event. So what you really need to know is - does the pattern of seismic activity prior to this quake differ substantially from the activity observed prior to other historical quakes in the same area?

    With fracking being such a recent practice, and given that eastern US earthquakes tend to effect a relatively large area thanks to the geology of the region... just looking at recent trends could very well be misleading.

    Unfortunately the midwest is rather stable geologically, so there's likely not enough data points to allow one to draw a conclusion with any expectation of certainty.

  • Re:Stupid Media. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:26PM (#38051964)

    Absolutely- and I wish people would realise this.

    It appears mostly cleaner than other forms of energy retrieval- certainly much cleaner than coal and less environmental damage than moving mountain tops around.

    It is something that needs to be monitored- and from what I understand the use of toxic chemicals is not required- there are non-toxic equivalents that may cost a little more... USE THEM.

    Regulate the industry- don't just kill it outright.

    I'm also curious specifically on the drinking water pollution- something we should watch. Some people have detected elevated levels of methane in their water around fracking sites. I'm curious how much of this is really from fracking and how much is due to the fact that they only frack in places where there is methane in the ground anyway.

    Sure you're going to find more methane in areas around fracking sites than elsewhere... that's why they are fracking there in the first place.

    Please proceed with fracking- but have independent review and make sure shotcuts arn't taken. Make sure we watch all the time and take every precaution not to make a "deepwater" mistake. This is potentially a great way to get "relatively" clean power.

  • by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:39PM (#38052108) Homepage Journal
    Your argument (and that of many other commenters in this thread) would make sense if all earthquakes were caused by slip-fault activity and are therefore unavoidable/inevitable so long as there is tension between plates. That is simply not the case. It is perfectly possible (but no one really knows) that the process used in hydraulic fracturing (a lot easier of a term to use with a straight face than 'Fracking') is altering the crust in a way nothing else would, and hence is generating earthquakes that otherwise would never have existed in the first place.
  • by kick6 ( 1081615 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:40PM (#38052124) Homepage
    I lived in Oklahoma and worked in the natural gas industry circa 2005. At that point we were already frac'ing every single natural gas well we drilled, and probably had been for a decade prior. Why NOW is it suddenly a problem? Oh that's right...because its a politcal issue. If there was any real science to support this frac=quake BS siesmologists would have been screaming about it a decade ago.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @04:52PM (#38052238)

    I live in Northwestern Oklahoma, and currently work for a Oil and Natural Gas company who not only supplies but regularly uses fracking equipment. At present there are over 300 wells in northwestern Oklahoma that have been fracked in the past 2 years, and yet northwest Oklahoma has seen absolutely no change in seismic activity. And yes fracking is the standard in the US for natural gas well production, and has been for at least 6 years. Thank you for being sensible and knowledgeable on the subject, so few are on here.

  • by desertengineer ( 1373803 ) on Monday November 14, 2011 @05:55PM (#38053022)
    There's a lot of buzz here in Oklahoma about that. Tiring of all the media drama and emotions, and wanting a better explanation, I talked to a retired geologist friend - and she had some good data... First, the epicenters of the quakes (We've probably had a hundred total in the past few weeks) are on the Western edge of a geologic area known as the Seminole Structure. That's on the edge of a much larger discontinuity known as the Nemaha. The faults have been here for a long time, and therefore hold a good measure of energy. Second, the depths have been measured to be around 18,000 ft down. There are no wells in this area close to that depth, so the chance of fracking fluid causing it is diminished. Third, the waveforms suggest a thrust movement rather than side-slip. Fracking isn't much of a candidate there. I posed the question to her that if the chances are small injection wells caused the bigger one, would it be plausible that a smaller quake from the wells could have triggered a chain of stress relief that led to the larger one? Not likely, because if it was so easily triggered ("on edge" of being triggered), then natural processes are more probable than man-made ones to "trigger" the chain. Within hours of the first correlated events, geology researchers (and students?) from OU and OSU were on scene (West of Prague) with sensors and acoustic equipment. This is pretty much the first Oklahoma quake cluster to have that level of detailed instrumentation. Maybe they will get some good grants out of this? :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @06:02PM (#38053076)
    I work in the Environmental Health Sciences field, and what the OP said is dead on. The EPA may be growing in budget size, but their teeth are considerably smaller now than they were 30 years ago. They can issue guidelines and that is about it. If corporations choose not to follow them, there isn't much the EPA can do anymore. Issue a few fines that are a small percentage of what fixing the real issue would cost, so most companies just pay the fines and keep polluting. So while their size may have increased, their power has gone drastically down.
  • Re:Probably. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday November 14, 2011 @11:05PM (#38055468) Journal

    Well all I can give is my little anecdote, but I have a friend that develops models and presentations for the NG wildcatters in Northwest AR and the map he showed me made me think Frakking? not such a good idea. He laid out a map on the screen of every place the bunch he had been working for was frakking then he laid over it a map from the local college's seismographic monitoring stations and what they had picked up and every single site they frakked had 2.8 or better earthquakes within 6 months of the start of frakking. And the area they were frakking is solid bedrock and shale, it just doesn't get earthquakes. he showed me the recorded data of that area going back to 1947 (when the college first started monitoring and collecting data) and they averaged maybe one a decade, now it is closer to one a month!

    Frankly if the wildcatters elsewhere are like the ones here We, the People will get stuck cleaning up their messes anyway as they have a nice scam going. they have a shell corp set up which they lease ALL the assets from, from mineral rights to drilling equipment, right down to the office furniture. They hit a couple of dry wells or make a mess and the bills start piling up? They just burn the original corp by filing bankruptcy and make a new corp to lease the equipment from. I've already seen a couple pull that scam locally and skip town owing quite a large sum of money.

    So as usual in the Corporate States of Amerika whether it turns out to be frakking or not it doesn't matter, as i'm sure by the time they get done we'll have several nice ecological messes that we the taxpayer gets to pick up the tab for while they cash out and move on to the next scam.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 14, 2011 @11:16PM (#38055518)

    A very focused sampling of USGS data in the area.

    259 earth quakes in a 2x2 degree area in the last 4 years. If you look before 2008, you'll see about 30 in as many years.

    Slashdot won't let me post the actual coordinates for you to plot yourself, but here's a map.

"The C Programming Language -- A language which combines the flexibility of assembly language with the power of assembly language."